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Advanced Biofuels: Fueling America’s Climate Change Efforts

By: Michael McAdams, president of the Advanced Biofuels Association

Each year, Earth Day offers us the opportunity to celebrate the planet we live on, from the coasts to the forests to the plains. It is also a time to reflect on the threat climate change poses to Earth’s resources, including its rich biodiversity, and to take stock of the steps we all can take to reduce our carbon emissions.

For our part, the Advanced Biofuels Association is working to decarbonize America’s fuel sources. Our low-carbon liquid fuels, which by law must exceed 50% emissions reductions, but frequently exceed 80% or higher, are vital to propel the nation into a cleaner, energy-independent future.

In 2018, the advanced biofuels industry supported 15 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) savings, and the ABFA is building on this success by producing 12 billion gallons of advanced biofuels annually. While the nation is making important moves to electrify passenger vehicles and other transport methods, a significant segment of the transportation sector will continue to rely on fuel-based energy. Advanced biofuels can be used to power the non-electric segments of the transportation economy, including up to 50% of passenger vehicles that will still be reliant upon fuel, heavy-duty shipping fleets, commercial airliners, and an array of ocean-going vessels.

Commercial shipping vehicles alone account for roughly 8% of America’s total annual GHG emissions. Advanced biofuels have great potential to reduce that number, given proper investment in technology and infrastructure. By leveraging liquid fuels produced by ABFA’s members as a tool to combat climate change – alongside electrification efforts – we can secure a victory for the climate and our economy.

We’re seeing significant progress toward this vision. ABFA member LanzaJet recently opened a first-of-its-kind sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) production facility that produces 10 million gallons of SAF annually. And it was responsible for a groundbreaking transatlantic flight that utilized a sustainably-produced fuel offering 70% carbon emissions reductions. Advanced biofuels can play a pivotal role in powering these other heavy vehicles across the “electrification gap” while ensuring low carbon emissions.

Despite the significant promise offered by advanced biofuels in our battle against climate change, there is still much work to do, especially on the policy front. The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which regulates the renewable fuel market, is outdated and does not reflect the historic progress made by the advanced biofuels industry over the past decade. As written, the RFS will limit renewable fuel production by close to 50% in 2030. The EPA could easily revise its implementation of this program to better incentivize lower-carbon fuel use and pave the way for the advanced biofuels industry to produce roughly 93 billion gallons of renewable diesel in 2030. That’s nearly double the amount that the industry could produce under current standards.

Congress, too, can support our efforts to lower carbon emissions by enacting the clean energy tax extenders included in the Build Back Better Act. These policies would extend and establish incentives for the cleanest renewable fuels, including establishing a tax credit for SAF and extending and transitioning existing incentives for biodiesel and renewable diesel into consistent, technology-neutral tax credits tied to fuel performance or reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. This policy change would establish a long-term horizon for the low-carbon fuel industry, catalyzing investment from the private sector to widely adopt cutting-edge fuel production technologies. In addition to increasing our energy independence, such a shift would offer concrete emissions reductions: a 2019 study noted that extended tax credits could result in emissions reductions totaling roughly 18.4 million tons. That’s the equivalent of taking 800,000 cars off the road – a substantial victory for our national emissions-reductions goals.

On Earth Day, we must remember that it takes all of us to combat climate change. The Advanced Biofuels Association is proud to be doing its part to reduce GHG emissions. And we look forward to working with our industry partners and leaders on Capitol Hill to continue our efforts well into the future.