Letter asks EPA to take a fresh look at corn kernel fiber ethanol

By Erin Voegele | February 15, 2018

Representatives of the cellulosic biofuels industry are asking the U.S. EPA to take a renewed look at commercial-ready cellulosic biofuels, including cellulosic ethanol made from corn kernel fiber, as the agency begins its work to develop proposed 2019 Renewable Fuel Standard renewable volume obligations (RVOs).

On Feb. 15, a group of 20 trade groups active in the cellulosic biofuel industry sent a letter discussing the issue to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.

In the letter, the groups stress that one sector warranting EPA’s closer attention is cellulosic ethanol made from corn kernel fiber. The letter quotes the EPA as stating in 2017 that its review of cellulosic biofuel production data showed that “facilities that convert corn kernel fiber to cellulosic ethanol at existing ethanol production facilities have generally over performed relative to our estimates.”

The groups argue that “unleashing corn kernel fiber ethanol production will bring significant and immediate economic, environmental and energy security benefits.” According to the letter, existing ethanol plants could produce hundreds of millions of gallons of cellulosic ethanol from this single stream of agricultural residue in the near term.

While the outlook for corn kernel fiber ethanol is strong, the letter explains that EPA set low volumetric projections for the biofuel in the proposed 2018 RVOs and reduced targets for corn kernel fiber ethanol in the final rule.

“The overly conservative corn kernel fiber ethanol projection, compounded with uncertainty around how quickly EPA will approve new corn kernel fiber ethanol technologies for D3 RIN generation, threatens to slow adoption of cellulosic production capacity at existing ethanol facilities across the country,” said the groups in the letter.

The groups that signed the letter explain that they are concerned the new methodology used by the EPA to forecast cellulosic biofuel production in 2018 will continue to result in inappropriately low production projections for certain commercially ready technologies if used again for the 2019 RVO. Specifically, they noted that the methodology relies too heavily on historic trends that do not accurately reflect recent advancements achieved by the corn kernel fiber cellulosic ethanol sector. The groups are encouraging the EPA to return to a more forward-looking methodology that better accounts for technological readiness and forecasts the projected volume of cellulosic production expected during the compliance year.

The letter also asks the EPA to address facets of the program that create unnecessary market uncertainty. Specifically, the letter asks the EPA move quickly to answer key questions pertaining to corn kernel fiber D3 eligibility. The groups also state that the unconditional availability of cellulosic waiver credits (CWCs) continues to undercut demand for liquid cellulosic biofuel gallons and indicates they have suggestions for improving CWW management.

 “Investments in cellulosic biofuel production are paying off, particularly through innovations in use of corn kernel fibers,” said Brent Erickson, executive vice president of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization’s Industrial & Environmental Section. “Regulators must keep up and ensure that cellulosic companies can succeed in an open fuels market.”

“Farm incomes have been cut in half since 2013,” added Roger Johnson, president of National Farmers Union. “Cellulosic ethanol production from corn fiber represents a vital new revenue stream that can help to revitalize the rural economy and lift up farm families. But first, we need to clear away the regulatory hurdles that are holding back new investments in rural communities.”

 “There is a huge rural economic development opportunity in corn kernel fiber ethanol,” said Brooke Coleman, executive director of the Advanced Biofuels Business Council. “It’s an unused agricultural residue stream that can be turned into ultra-low carbon, sustainable transportation fuel. The technology is ready and dozens of ethanol plants are ready to deploy it, but regulatory uncertainty is holding us back. If the Administration wants to unleash a surge of American ingenuity in the heartland, there is no better way to do it than fiber-based cellulosic ethanol.”

The letter is signed by BIO, ABBC, NFU, National Corn Growers Association, Growth Energy, Renewable Fuels Association, American Coalition for Ethanol, Association of Equipment Manufacturers, National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center, Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, Renewable Fuels Nebraska, Michigan Bio, Illinois Bio, IowaBio, Bio Nebraska, South Dakota BIO, BioKansas, Nebraska Corn Growers, Iowa Corn Growers, and Michigan Corn.

A full copy of the letter can be downloaded from the ABBC website