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"

 

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Topics: Ethanol, Biofuels, RFS, renewable energy

RFS Battles Continue on Ethanol and E15

Posted by Ed Burke on Apr 21, 2015 3:59:45 PM

Container of corn kernels with a Biofuel sticker affixed

This week, Ethanol activists in Chicago used the 20th anniversary of the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf to push for approval of a pending mandate that would require self-serve stations with over 850,000 gallons in annual sales volumes to carry E15, given they had the proper infrastructure for the blend. They argued that companies will "keep on spilling" and that made it imperative that the push continue towards higher blended, "cleaner" ethanol.

On the flip side, on April 21st, major petroleum groups API and AFPM requested the EPA ban the sale of E15 as a flex fuel. E10 Ethanol has a 1 psi volatility waiver that allows it to be RVP compliant in summer months. E15 is not compliant, however. The argument then is that stations, etc, are using E15 as a flex fuel in the summer months to avoid having to comply with RVP regulations.

The EPA is expected to formally announce the RFS volume requirements any day now, but even prior to the announcement there is action on the RFS in the legislature. House Bill HR 701 would cap ethanol at 10% blends, and rescind the EPA's approval of E15 blends. 

Another part of the bill states that target numbers for cellulosic ethanol goals need to be production based, which obviously makes sense, since one of the major issues with the RFS has been the cellulosic mandate in the face of a complete lack of cellulosic production.

I wrote an article for this months Oil & Energy Magazine detailing the growing dissension between RFS involved groups, impacted industries, the EPA and the Government - you can read that article here:

"Dissension Grows over Biofuels Rules"

 

 

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Topics: Ethanol, EPA Mandate, Cellulosic Ethanol, RFS

AltWheels - Past, Present and Future

Posted by Ed Burke on Jan 7, 2015 12:32:35 PM

The most recent AltWheels Fleet Day in Norwood was once again a great success. We've been part of AltWheels from the beginning, back when biodiesel was a niche product and who had ever even heard of ethanol gasoline?

There have been a lot of advances and changes in the landscape of alternative fuels and vehicles. I wrote an article for Oil & Energy Magazine in December chronicling some of the major evolutions we've seen across the field of alternative energy. You can read that article here: "Fleets of the Present and Future: Ed Burke Reports on Alt Wheels Fleet Day"

And below, just for fun here's some awesome shots of the great times we've had at AltWheels past. Enjoy!

AltWheels recognizes green pioneers

E85 pickup truck

Two men standing in front of a flex fuel Chevy AvalancheMan in a suit standing at a podium giving a speech

Chevy VoltHonda Civic - Natural Gas

Police officers riding on horses pose infront of the Dennis K. Burke kiosk

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Topics: natural gas, Biodiesel, Ethanol, environment, altwheels,, electric vehicles

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.  

 

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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?

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

The Revival of the Biodiesel Blender'sTax Credit - Pro or Con?

Posted by Ed Burke on Mar 13, 2013 1:52:00 PM

In a move that was semi-surprising given the budget cut debates surrounding this years fiscal cliff talks, not only did law makers reinstitute the Biodiesel Blender Tax Incentive of $1 per gallon, but they did so retroactively to 2012.

The positives - or potential positives - of this decision are an estimated 30 thousand jobs sustained by the cut (112,000 versus a projected 82,000 jobs without the credit in place). Additionally in theory the credit serves to make domestic biodiesel competitive with Brazilian corn ethanol - currently ethanol blending into gasoline is the cheapest method of generating advanced biofuels to satisfy the EPA's RFS mandate. However, even with the credit in place, biodiesel still runs a significantly higher cost than ethanol. If biodiesel production does step up as a result of the credit and the RFS mandate, that could potentially prove a benefit for the United States economy, especially given that biodiesel is domestically produced, whereas we import most of the corn used for ethanol from Brazil because domestic corn does not satisfy the RFS "advanced" biofuel requirement.

On the negative side - given that ethanol is often cited as contributing to corn pricing spikes on  commodity and consumer product levels, it is reasonable to assume that increased biodiesel production and demand would have the same effect on soybean commodity prices as well as food items. Additionally, most of the projected benefits of reinstating the credit rest at least somewhat on the assumption that it will make biodiesel pricing competitive enough to compete with Ethanol - this is not really the case currently, and pricing structures on both products could prove unstable due to market volatility and competing uses for each items base commodity.

At the end of the day - my thought is a tax incentive on a mandated item is uneccesary, and appears more so given the uncertain nature of the benefits, and the solid $2 billion dollar price tag attached to this cut.

I wrote an article for Oil & Energy Magazine on this topic, if you want more info on the details of how the RFS mandate's ins and outs relate to this tax credit and why Brazilian ethanol's competitive advantage is tough to beat even with a dollar per gallon tax incentive. You can read the article online here: Oil & Energy Magazine - Feb 2013  or as a PDF by clicking here: Biodiesel Blender Tax Credit

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Topics: Commodities, Biodiesel Tax Credit, Fiscal Cliff, Ethanol, RFS 2, EPA Mandate

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