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Groups Pressure EPA On Biofuels Mandate

As deadline approaches, cellulosic ethanol producers worry about being squeezed out of the market

by Melody M. Bomgardner
November 9, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 44

Supporters and opponents of biofuel mandates are ramping up pressure on EPA in hopes of influencing a rule, due on Nov. 30, on how much corn ethanol and advanced biofuel will be blended in the U.S. fuel supply.

Credit: DuPont
DuPont’s new cellulosic ethanol plant runs on bales of corn leaves, stalks, and cobs.
Image of a large bale of corn stover.
Credit: DuPont
DuPont’s new cellulosic ethanol plant runs on bales of corn leaves, stalks, and cobs.

The rule will come just as the United Nations kicks off its climate change conference in Paris and shortly after DuPont opened its first cellulosic ethanol facility, in Iowa. Advanced biofuel producers say strong mandates, enabled by the Renewable Fuels Standard, make investments in low-carbon fuels possible.

For next year, EPA has proposed to increase the amount of corn and cellulosic biofuel that fuel blenders use but at levels less than those authorized under the 2007 law that set targets for the standard.

The proposal signals EPA may not push to accelerate biofuel adoption and that the U.S. will likely lose its leading position to other countries, says Jan Koninckx, DuPont’s global business director for biofuel. “The proposal is a choice for the status quo on ethanol, which means growth in advanced biofuel will happen elsewhere,” Koninckx says. DuPont is licensing its technology in China and Eastern Europe.

The American Petroleum Institute, a trade group that would like the mandates reduced, and the pro-biofuel Fuels America have launched opposing television and radio campaigns about the standard. Meanwhile, advocacy groups such as the Environmental Working Group are warning against increasing the use of corn ethanol, saying it’s worse for climate change than gasoline. In an odd twist, API’s radio spot cites EWG’s position.

EWG instead would like the focus of mandates to shift to advanced biofuel. “Ethanol made from corn stover—the leaves and stalks that remain in the field after the grain is harvested—has a life-cycle carbon intensity 96% lower than gasoline’s,” it stressed in a Nov. 3 report.

Since 2007, the nation’s output of corn ethanol has increased to the point that, today, almost all gas contains 10% ethanol. API contends that going beyond that level can damage car engines.

Production of cellulosic biofuel began only last year at plants built by Poet-DSM and Abengoa. Because few gas stations supply gasoline with more than 10% ethanol, backers of cellulosic ethanol worry that lowered mandates will squeeze out the new advanced biofuel.



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