Study: 90-billion-gallon RFS achievable

By Anna Austin
Sandia National Laboratories and General Motors Corp. have released a report that indicates a U.S. renewable fuels standard (RFS) mandate of 90 billion gallons of biofuels by 2030 is achievable and sustainable.

The report, titled "The 90 Billion-Gallon Deployment Study," was compiled using a systems dynamic model that analyzed the complete supply chain, including land availability, transportation, storage and conversion processes.

Sandia's Transportation Energy Center Director Bob Carling said the study was centered on ethanol, although other fuels are applicable to the model. The ethanol industry was deemed more mature compared with other biofuels.

Carling said the underlying assumption of the study was that if the U.S. is going to invest in new petroleum-based domestic production, it would cost approximately the same as investing in biomass-based fuel production.

The 90-billion gallon ethanol target will require approximately 60 billion gallons of gasoline, one-third of the projected amount of transportation fuel required in 2030. "The projections from the U.S. DOE and others say that in 2030, the country will need about 180 billion gallons of gasoline," Carling said.

West said the purpose of the project was to assess feasibility, implications, limitations and enablers of large-scale biofuel production in the U.S. Middle-of-the-road assumptions were used in the study, rather than the most optimistic or pessimistic.

A key conclusion, according to West, was that the production of 45 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year by 2030 would require approximately 480 million tons of dry biomass, less than half of which would come from dedicated energy crops. "They can be grown on land that is currently idle or being used as pasture as opposed to actively being used as cropland," he said. "This is assuming technological progress in the conversion processes, resulting in an average yield of 95 gallons of ethanol per ton of dry biomass."

West said Sandia also found that biofuel capital expenditure necessary to achieve 60 billion gallons of total biofuel production capacity per year by 2030 would be approximately $250 billion. "This is large, but quite similar in magnitude to investments required to establish and maintain the equivalent production of domestic petroleum," he said.

The study concluded that cellulosic biofuels can compete with oil priced at $90 per barrel.