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First, Do No Harm to Growing Production of Advanced and Cellulosic Biofuels  

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

By Michael McAdams, President of the Advanced Biofuels Association

From the perspective of the advanced and cellulosic biofuels industry, the current RFS debate has become mired in short-term concerns – like the blend wall and prices for RINs. Much of the commentary loses sight of the bigger picture about policy signals necessary to foster investment in a robust market for advanced biofuels. It also doesn’t help that some stakeholder groups have attempted to create a view that the RFS is completely broken and should be repealed entirely, rather than allowing the Environmental Protection Agency to use its authority and flexibility to make needed adjustments.

When Congress expanded the RFS a few years ago, lawmakers envisioned an industry that would deliver more sustainable fuels with greater larger greenhouse gas reductions. The ultimate prize would be “drop-in” fuels that are totally compatible with our existing pipelines, fuel pumps and engines. Member companies of the Advanced Biofuels Associations (ABFA) are delivering on that vision.

Here Today and Investing For Tomorrow

Many of these companies have built or purchased commercial-scale plants that will produce renewable gallons qualifying as advanced under the RFS this year. And many more are either breaking ground or plan to have commercial plants in operation soon.  A few examples:

  • KiOR produced this month 49,000 gallons of cellulosic gasoline and 19,000 gallons of cellulosic diesel by crushing pine trees in the company’s Mississippi plant.
  • Gevo is supplying the U.S. Coast Guard with finished gasoline containing 16.1% renewable isobutanol, a biofuel with higher energy density and other benefits compared to ethanol.
  • Located in Florida, Viesel Fuel has converted millions of gallons of waste grease into a petroleum replacement product every year since 2008.  The company just upgraded its manufacturing facility to produce biodiesel using an improved, enzymatic process.
  • Sapphire Energy is producing green crude from the nation’s first integrated algal biorefinery in New Mexico.
  • One of ABFA’s founding members, Neste, will deliver more than 100 million gallons of renewable diesel this year to the state of California.
  • Sundrop Fuels is building its first commercial-scale plant in Louisiana, which will begin production in 2016.

That’s why repeal of the RFS would be such a step backwards for America’s energy future. In a world with changing strategic alliances, a skyrocketing population and increasing demand for lifestyles that involve more energy, our country requires a diverse and secure energy future.

Advanced and cellulosic biofuels are an important part of the diversified, balanced portfolio of energy options that America needs.  Because they are produced from renewable sources like plants, trees, algae, waste, animal fats and other forms of biomass – not petroleum – advanced biofuels complement rising domestic oil and natural gas production.

How Policymakers Can Help

To grow and thrive in the marketplace, renewable fuels need both a stable policy environment and a level playing field that does not favor one energy source over another. That’s why we ask the federal government to offer consistency and to maintain policies that are technology and molecule neutral, so that managing the risk of regulatory and legislative uncertainty is no longer a principal challenge in this industry.

Much of what is difficult about the RFS today is the uncertainty of the annual obligations. ABFA and others have called on EPA to release the Renewable Volume Obligations (RVOs) for 2013 and 2014 as quickly as possible. Providing an additional year of clarity with the 2015 RVOs would also help rapidly defuse much of the economic pressure causing volatility in the price of RINs. Our members hope Congress will encourage EPA to explore a combined 2014 and 2015 rule.

Renewable fuel producers are committed to helping America transition to a low-carbon economy with enhanced energy security by building better fuels. As Washington debates the future of the RFS, we hope all parties can agree on the importance of first doing no harm to growing production of advanced and cellulosic biofuels.

This post was originally published as part of the National Journal’s Energy Insiders series: Can Washington Find Agreement on Biofuels Mandate?

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