U.S. unlikely to hit Renewable Fuel Standard for cellulosic biofuels: report

Oct 05, 2011 by Brian Wallheimer

The biofuel industry will not be able to meet the cellulosic production requirements of the Renewable Fuel Standard without significant advancements in technology or investment, according to a National Academy of Sciences study prepared for Congress.

Wally Tyner, the James and Lois Ackerman Professor of at Purdue University, co-chaired a committee tasked by the to produce the study. The Committee on Economic and Environmental Impacts of Increasing Biofuels Production presented the report Tuesday (Oct. 4).

The Renewable Fuel Standard requires that 15 billion gallons of corn-based ethanol, 1 billion gallons of and 16 billion gallons of cellulosic fuels be produced annually by 2022. According to the report, the corn ethanol numbers and biodiesel can be achieved, but the cellulosic goals probably cannot.

Tyner said that's because the corn ethanol industry has been working for more than 30 years, while the cellulosic industry is still very young. There are no commercially viable biorefineries for today.

"We have more than 200 corn producing more than 14 billion gallons of ethanol today. It took 30 years to get there. We have 11 years to reach even higher numbers for cellulosic biofuels," Tyner said. "We would need a build rate three times that of . And with corn, we had the technology; we had the , and prices for corn were relatively low. We don't have any of that with cellulosic."

Another problem, according to the report, is that the amount farmers would need to make a profit on raising cellulosic feedstocks is more than ethanol producers are willing to pay for those feedstocks. In most cases, the gap is larger than the federal subsidy that goes to federal producers, which may leave investors nervous about getting into the cellulosic .

The report also raises questions about the environmental impact of cellulosic biofuels. Tyner said it's uncertain whether some cellulosic fuels would lower greenhouse gases because of the emissions that would be released when new land is cultivated.

Tyner and co-chair Ingrid C. Burke, director of the Haub School and Ruckelshaus Institute of Environmental and Natural Resources at the University of Wyoming, presented their findings Monday (Oct. 3) to congressional staffers, agency representatives and the executive branch, and at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday (Oct. 4).

"There are conditions in which you could see us meeting the Standard for cellulosic biofuels, but they require major leaps in technology, substantial increases in oil prices and/or very large subsidies," Tyner said.

The committee also included members from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Michigan Technological University, the University of Minnesota, the University of California Davis, ProTech Consultants, Iowa State University, Synthetic Genomics, the University of Iowa, Michigan State University, Kansas State University, Ohio State University and the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury, Department of Agriculture, Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sponsored the study. The data was peer-reviewed before distribution.

Explore further: Tiny power plants hold promise for nuclear energy

Related Stories

US does not have infrastructure to consume more ethanol

Jan 04, 2011

The United States doesn't have the infrastructure to meet the federal mandate for renewable fuel use with ethanol but could meet the standard with significant increases in cellulosic and next-generation biofuels, ...

Economist: 'Blending wall' stands in way of ethanol growth

Dec 22, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- Ethanol production opened the door to the renewable fuels industry. The industry now must get past an imposing wall of federal regulations and market conditions if it hopes to grow, said a Purdue University ...

Recommended for you

Tiny power plants hold promise for nuclear energy

15 minutes ago

Small underground nuclear power plants that could be cheaper to build than their behemoth counterparts may herald the future for an energy industry under intense scrutiny since the Fukushima disaster, the ...

Obama launches measures to support solar energy in US

48 minutes ago

The White House Thursday announced a series of measures aimed at increasing solar energy production in the United States, particularly by encouraging the installation of solar panels in public spaces.

Tailored approach key to cookstove uptake

1 hour ago

Worldwide, programs aiming to give safe, efficient cooking stoves to people in developing countries haven't had complete success—and local research has looked into why.

Wireless power transfer achieved at five-meter distance

1 hour ago

The way electronic devices receive their power has changed tremendously over the past few decades, from wired to non-wired. Users today enjoy all kinds of wireless electronic gadgets including cell phones, ...

Environmentally compatible organic solar cells

Apr 16, 2014

Environmentally compatible production methods for organic solar cells from novel materials are in the focus of "MatHero". The new project coordinated by Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) aims at making ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

jlynn73
not rated yet Oct 05, 2011
now all they need to do is un-ban the largest most productive cash crop known to man. industrial hemp.

or continue to waste energy converting food into gasoline. /bonk
ForFreeMinds
2 / 5 (4) Oct 05, 2011
This is government meddling in the free market, causing higher prices for consumers, is a handout to some (corn growers and ADM), in return for campaign cash contributions, in the name of protecting us from ourselves. It's essentially legalized theft. The legislation should be scrapped the way government is throwing away our rights to contract.

More news stories

Tailored approach key to cookstove uptake

Worldwide, programs aiming to give safe, efficient cooking stoves to people in developing countries haven't had complete success—and local research has looked into why.

A sharp eye on Southern binary stars

Unlike our sun, with its retinue of orbiting planets, many stars in the sky orbit around a second star. These binary stars, with orbital periods ranging from days to centuries, have long been the primary ...