New Pathways for Cellulosic Biofuels

By Erin Voegele | March 01, 2013

Earlier this week, the U.S. EPA published a final rule establishing new fuel pathways under the renewable fuel standard. Project developers who would like to utilize either camelina or energy cane feedstocks are now able to generate advanced biofuels, and in some cases cellulosic, renewable identification numbers (RINs) for the biofuels they produce.

The rulemaking also enables renewable gasoline and renewable gasoline blendstocks made from crop residue, slash, pre-commercial thinnings, tree residue, annual cover crops, and the cellulosic components of separated yard waste, separated food waste and separate municipal solid waste to qualify as cellulosic fuel. In addition, when utilizing natural gas, biogas and/or biomass as the only process energy source, thermochemical pyrolysis, thermochemical gasification, biochemical direct fermentation, and biochemical fermentation with catalytic upgrading can all be used with the listed feedstocks to generate cellulosic fuel, as can any other process that uses biogas and/or biomass as the only process energy sources to covert approved feedstocks into biofuel.

So, what does this all mean for the industry?

To me, the approval of additional RFS fuel pathways will help strengthen not only the RFS, but the biofuel industry as a whole.

We all know about Big Oil’s attack on the RFS, and one of the most often-cited arguments of RFS opponents is that the program requires the use of fuel that doesn’t exist. Hopefully that argument will begin to diminish this year as cellulosic producers finally begin turning out commercial volumes of cellulosic fuels.

I also hope that new pathways for cellulosic production will not only expand the amount of fuels that enter the market, but also expand public perception to associate renewable gasoline, diesel and others as cellulosic fuels. I think that when people outside our industry hear the term “cellulosic biofuels,” they think primarily about cellulosic ethanol. However, that is just the tip of the iceberg. This rulemaking, along with future pathway approvals, will allow a wide variety of non-ethanol fuels to qualify as cellulosic biofuels, helping to meet the volume requirements of the RFS.