EPA's 2017 RFS Volume Proposal Draws Familiar Concerns

Posted by Ed Burke on Jul 20, 2016 8:20:00 AM

shutterstock_150169862.jpg

This past May, the EPA released its 2017 RFS volume standards. The 2017 levels are a 3.8% increase over 2016 but are still well below the original levels for the year as proposed in 2007.

In both the stakeholder commentary period and the period immediately following the volumes' release, we saw the usual cast of characters come forward with their concerns about the mandated levels. That included biofuels proponents who see the EPAs levels as a "cave" over the blend wall, and industry members who are concerned about the market and practical feasibility of ever increasing levels and who carries the obligation to meet mandated levels. 

You can read more in depth about the diverse reactions the EPA ruling had in the recent article I wrote for Oil & Energy magazine here: "Proposed RFS Changes Draw Diverse Reactions" 

 

Read More

Topics: EPA Mandate, Biofuels, RFS

RFS Volumes Finally Finalized

Posted by Ed Burke on Jan 8, 2016 11:36:12 AM

Corn kernels in a container labeled, Biofuel

As of November, the EPA finally released its final renewable volume obligations for 2014, 2015, and 2016.

The volumes set are lower than those mandated by Congress in the initial Renewable Fuel Standard, after the EPA took into account a drop in fuel & gasoline demand and usage over the past several years (as compared to the demand and usage projected in 2007). The final volume for 2016 is 18.11 billion gallons, versus the Congressional volume of 22.25 billion gallons.

There were over 600 thousand comments on the proposal before it was finalized, and the feelings on the results are mixed, to put it mildly.

Ag farmers and biofuel industry players had argued the EPA had to stick to the original mandated volumes. Livestock farmers and food producers had argued for the mandate to be scrapped in its entirety, citing the impact it has had on pushing the cost of food and food production skywards. The oil industry fell somewhere in the middle, arguing the EPA ought to use its waiver to greatly reduce volumes to reflect lower fuel usage, the essential lack of cellulosic renewables, and concerns that high mandated volumes of ethanol would force the blend wall issue.

I wrote an in depth piece on the EPA's final ruling for Oil & Energy Magazine - you can read it in full here: "EPA Finalizes RFS Obligations"

 

Read More

Topics: Ethanol, Biofuels, RFS, renewable energy

Is Ethanol Even Green?

Posted by Ed Burke on Jan 21, 2014 2:08:00 PM

Grassy Hillsides plowed into crop rows. Millions of acres of conservation land converted to corn fields. Fertilizer runoff polluting lakes and streams. All to produce a "green" fuel source.... Or that's the picture painted by an AP article slash expose anyway. 

The ethanol industry renounced the AP article as a "smear campaign" pointing out that fertilizer runoff and associated issues occur regardless of the end point of the corn produced. Another issue with the AP article is that the "conservation" land converted to corn fields wasn't exactly "conservation land" in the usual sense - essentially, much of it was designated conservation under an initiative that seemingly has less to do with conserving land than it does with boosting crop prices for farmers. While those points may be true, there is no doubt that corn based ethanol has environmental impacts, and there's even question on how much benefit to the environment the fuel itself produces, with the revelation that ethanol may be only about 16% "greener" than gasoline, which would technically disqualify it as a green alternative to gas.

The Senate has even introduced a bill to eliminate the ethanol portion of the RFS. This happened in December, just as the EPA announced it would reduce the ethanol blending goals in the standard. Not a good month for the Ethanol Industry, I would say. Senators Feinstein and Coburn - another unlikely alliance, cosponsored the bill. Both cited increased food costs as a result of diversion of corn into fuel supply, and the issues oil companies face with the blend wall - their inability to blend more ethanol into fuel without risking damage to consumer vehicles (that was the issue behind the EPAs reduction as well). [You can read a little more detail about the bill in my most recent Oil & Energy Article by clicking here]

So what does this all mean anyways? Its not likely ethanol will "go away" but both of these actions make it a little less burdensome on refiners and companies and protect the blend wall. It will be interesting to see how it shakes out over 2014 - the Obama administration strongly supports the corn based ethanol on the basis that it encourages biofuel adaptation in general and ethanol is a good starting point. There is no doubt that the mandate for corn based ethanol is extremely costly however, and with the undeniable impacts on food prices for both the industry and consumers, given the recent questions on the reality of its environmental impact, it seems to be time for politicians to really sit down and repair broken and costly regulations.  

 

Read More

Topics: E85, Ethanol, RFS 2, EPA Mandate, RINs, Biofuels, EPA, Blend Wall

Environmentalists & Oil Exec's Unite on RFS Volume Reduction

Posted by Kelly Burke on Jan 14, 2014 9:47:00 AM

A surprisingly unusual coalition of folks have united to support the EPA's reduction of RFS Volume Requirements including food industry leaders, environmental groups, humanitarian groups and oil industry groups. Why is that? 

Everyone involved has concerns about different impacts they believe are created or exascerbated by the mandate, especially if the volumes hold or increase. Refiners, for example are concerned about their ability to breach the "blend wall", where every gallon of gasoline would contain the required 10% - once thats hit it will be extremely difficult for refiners to generate the neccessary RINs, largely because of concerns about moving past an E10 blend.

Refiners and Motorist groups like AAA argue that E15 is not approved for use in a large portion of vehicles, and 13 major car manufacturers will even void warranty coverage in vehicles running E15. That's a huge issue for folks with cars that are not model 2014. Even the Ethanol groups numbers on this issue leave approximately 250 million vehicles on the road that cannot run properly on E15 - that's not good news for Joe Six Pack.

So why are Environmental groups throwing their support behind a Volume Reduction? Isnt Ethanol supposed to be "green"? Well, maybe not. Original numbers put ethanol at 16% greener than gasoline, and then theres the more obvious environmental impacts. An estimated 5 million acres of land that had previously been set aside for conservation have been converted into farm land for corn for ethanol. Fertilizer run offs have worsened a "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico, and contaminated some local water supplies as well, according to an AP investigation. 

Food producers oppose the mandate on the basis that diversion of corn for use in fuel versus the food supply has driven up the cost of animal feed, as well as corn used in processing itself. 

Beyond just supporting the Volume Reductions, the groups in question support a full repeal of the RFS in many cases. 

I wrote an article for Oil & Energy Magazine that gets a little more detailed on the RFS Reduction, you can read it here if you are interested: Oil & Energy Magazine 

What are your thoughts on the RFS Mandate and potential Volume Reductions?

Read More

Topics: Oil & Energy Magazine, Ethanol, RFS 2, EPA Mandate, Biofuels, EPA

API Sues EPA on Cellulosic Ethanol portion of 2011 RFS

Posted by Ed Burke on Jul 27, 2012 12:19:00 PM

Interesting timing - yesterday I linked to my article in Oil & Energy Magazine giving an overview of the state of the Cellulosic Ethanol Industry and the EPA's mandate that 2012 production hits 8.65 million gallons per the 2011 Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS). I mentioned that critics argued that commercial production of Cellulosic remains at low enough levels that many argue they cannot possibly hit the target set by the EPA, despite steps forward that have been made in production.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) filed a lawsuit against the EPA on July 24th 2012 in D.C. Circuit Court arguing the Cellulosic portion of the Renewable Fuels Standard mandates the use of “nonexistent cellulosic biofuels”. API’s Director of Downstream and Industry Operations, Bob Greco stated that the “EPA’s unattainable and absurd mandate forces refiners to pay a penalty for failing to use biofuels that don’t even exist. The mandate is effectively an added tax on gasoline manufacturers that could ultimately burden consumers.”  

You can read API’s news statement describing the lawsuit on their website using the following link: http://www.api.org/news-and-media/news/newsitems/2012/jul-2012/api-files-lawsuit-against-epa-for-mandating-use-nonexistent-biofuels.aspx

Read More

Topics: Biofuels, Cellulosic Ethanol, EPA, API

Cellulosic Ethanol Production: Benefits, Progress, and Challenges

Posted by Ed Burke on Jul 26, 2012 1:56:00 PM

 The EPA has mandated that in 2012 Cellulosic Ethanol production hits 8.65 million gallons

What is Cellulosic Ethanol anyways? Cellulosic, unlike Corn Ethanol, is a second generation Biofuel (corn ethanol is a first generation) which means it comes from cellulose contained in non food plant material, either remnant products of food crops, or entirely non food crops.

A drawback of first generation Biofuels is that since they come from food crops, they potentially stand to impact food prices due to increased demand.  Today there are headlines on the news regarding the drought in the Midwest, and other natural events driving up the cost of food – the impact of events like this could become much more pronounced when there is a competing demand for the same commodities like soybeans, corn, and so on. Second generation Biofuels, being from non-food crops or remnants, take the food price issue out of the equation.  Additionally, from an environmental standpoint, although Corn Ethanol stands to reduce emissions up to 52% over gasoline, Cellulosic Ethanol could drop greenhouse gas emissions by up to an impressive 86%.

I wrote a piece this past month for Oil & Energy Magazine discussing the positive moves the Cellulosic Industry has made towards production, the science behind production, and obstacles in the way of moving forward.  You can read the article in Oil & Energy HERE or read it as a PDF HERE

Read More

Topics: Commodities, E85, Oil & Energy Magazine, Biofuels, Cellulosic Ethanol

Recent Posts

Posts by Topic

see all