RFS2 reduces 2010 cellulosic ethanol requirement

By Lisa Gibson
The new requirement for cellulosic biofuel production in 2010 is reduced to 6.5 million ethanol equivalent gallons in the renewable fuels standard (RFS2), down significantly from the 100 million gallons established in RFS1, included in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The U.S. EPA released final RFS2 rules Feb. 3 as media outlets, producers and others scrambled to find out how it would affect their industries.

While the required total volume of renewable fuels produced this year remains the same at 12.95 billion gallons, changes within the requirements for different types of fuels are drastic. Good news came for the biodiesel industry, as the requirement for a new biomass-based diesel program jumped to 1.15 billion gallons, a combination of standards for 2009 and 2010, to be applied in 2010.The advanced biofuel requirement remains the same at 950 million gallons.

The new cellulosic biofuel standard is based on an updated market analysis that considers detailed information from pilot and demonstration-scale plants, an Energy Information Administration analysis, and other public and private market information, according to the EPA. While 6.5 million shows a drastic reduction, a number of companies appear poised to expand over the next several years, it added.

"We see it as a positive change," said Jennifer Hutchins, spokeswoman for DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol, which opened a demonstration plant in Vonore, Tenn., at the end of January. "As a leading player in cellulosic ethanol, we're glad the standard has changed. Obviously, the industry wasn't going to meet that 100 million-gallon mandate." The plant runs on corncobs now, but will transition to 100 percent switchgrass over the next year.

"I think it's a great change," said Arnold Klann, CEO of California-based BlueFire Ethanol Fuels Inc., which focuses on producing cellulosic ethanol from waste. "It was very clear our industry couldn't meet the standard set for this year." He added that the new goal is easily achievable and was a good decision.

Fortunately, changes to the greenhouse gas (GHG) modeling mean all classes of biofuels meet the RFS GHG reduction goals. According to the RFS2 life-cycle greenhouse gas analysis, ethanol from switchgrass reduces GHG emissions by a stunning 110 percent through biochemical conversion and 72 percent through thermochemical processes. That was no surprise to DDCE. "We have known about the greenhouse gas reduction potential of switchgrass," Hutchins said. "That's one of the reasons we work with it." Ethanol from corn stover reduces emissions by 130 percent through biochemical conversion and 93 percent thermochemical. That means both meet the 60 percent GHG reduction requirement in EISA for cellulosic biofuels.

Ethanol from sugarcane also meets the standard, reducing GHG emissions by 61 percent. "EPA's reaffirmation of sugarcane ethanol's superior GHG reduction confirms that sustainably produced biofuels can play an important role in climate mitigation," said Joel Velasco, chief representative in Washington for the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association.

Biomass-based diesel must meet a 50 percent reduction standard to qualify for the RFS2. The National Biodiesel Board welcomed the RFS2, specifically the implementation of the biomass-based diesel program, which will help America reap existing benefits in job creation, energy security and the environment, according to Joe Jobe, NBB CEO.

The EPA also mentioned five categories of feedstock that are expected to have less or no indirect land use changes, including crop residues such as corn stover, wheat straw, rice straw, citrus residues; forest material such as eligible forest thinning and solid residue remaining from forest product production; secondary annual crops planted on existing crop land; separated food and yard waste; and perennial grasses including switchgrass and miscanthus.

The RFS2 lays out the strategy for reaching the goal of using 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel by 2022. Currently, the country is not on track to meet that goal, as only about 12 billion gallons of biofuels are produced annually.

"We welcome the commitment of the president to continue growing the domestic ethanol industry," Poet LLC CEO Jeff Broin said. "He correctly noted that producing home-grown ethanol creates jobs in America at a time America most needs them. However, we are concerned that some pieces of the rules put out by EPA today run contrary to that stated effort. Although the international indirect land use change penalty has been lessened somewhat, EPA still relied on the disproven theory when all of the data shows that ethanol production continues to improve and isn't requiring new land." South Dakota-based Poet produces corn-based and cellulosic ethanol from corncobs.