Why is America falling short on its renewable energy goals where liquid fuels are concerned? It’s not a money issue. It’s a technology problem. One that mixed alcohol fuel can address, but not until an enterprising company produces enough volume to matter. Leading biofuel companies such as Range Fuels certainly aren’t getting the job done.
The US Environmental Protection Agency has again cut already greatly reduced expectations for cellulosic biofuels production in its 2011 renewables mandates, according to a letter from the head of the Energy Information Administration (EIA).
Earlier in 2010, EPA dropped the cellulosic target in its renewable fuel mandates by 93% to 6.5 million gallons as companies failed to bring production capacity online. The 2011 production estimate has dropped even further.
Want to better understand the renewable fuels landscape, from algae to biodiesel, corn and cellulosic ethanol, to mixed alcohols? Here’s a fresh look at the confusion regarding renewable fuel subsidies, and why it is in the industry’s best interests for biofuel players to get out of “silo” mode and help the government sort through the questions.
3 paragraphs from the article:
“With their extreme versatility and often complicated nature, it isn’t easy for most people to wrap their brain around advanced biofuels, and the definitions in the renewable fuels standard 2 (RFS2) aren’t much help.”
“Depending once again on what your feedstock and technology is, right now you generally fall in one of these buckets: if you’re Gevo (Inc.) producing biobutanol, you get 60 cents per gallon under the VEETC (Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit). If you’re Tyson (Foods Inc.), Neste or Amyris (Biotechnologies Inc.) making a non-coprocessed renewable diesel, then you get $1 per gallon (blenders excise tax credit),” McAdams says. “If I’m Virent (Energy Systems Inc.) and I make speciated gasoline out of a catalyst technology using sugar or corn, I get 50 cents per gallon. If I’m a cellulosic company I have a $1.01 production tax credit, and if I’m algae, I don’t know where I go. If I make a fuel, I guess I default to the alternative fuels mixture credit because it gives me 50 cents per gallon for a fuel.”
“We need to ask ourselves, at what point should an industry’s subsidy end, and whether the current statutes are tilted toward a certain technology and if that’s ultimately good or bad. The industry is way too siloed right now.”
Don’t look to Washington’s finest for credible energy and climate solutions. Legislation, perhaps. Our politicians spend a lot of their time appearing in dignified settings courtesy of the US taxpayer, meeting important (and not so important) people, shaking lots of hands, listening and talking, smiling and chatting amiably with one another like lovable, peaceable Smurfs.
So our politicos are good at face time. But they’re terrible at addressing our biggest problems. Like balancing the federal budget, reducing trade deficits, or curbing the runaway growth of the national debt (Good luck with that). Or winding up our military affairs in the Middle East. Securing our borders. Stopping the BP oil spill. Pulling out all stops for a cleaner environment and a greener energy economy. You get the point.
When you consider that the energy, economic and environmental problems we face are in many ways caused by buying, burning and spilling dirty energy sources (oil and coal), while being utterly [addicted] dependent on consuming both energy sources, it easy to see we’ve got a long way to go to renewable energy independence and a healthier natural world. And a short time to get there.
How far on the road to energy independence is the USA when it comes to next-generation biofuels? We’ve only just begun.
Consider the paltry 88 million gallons of biodiesel produced this year from animal fat mentioned in the quote below, and add the 10 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol, then be generous and round it up to get 100 million gallons of “next-generation” biofuel capacity in 2010. This drop in the bucket represents an entire year of biofuel production beyond corn ethanol, which is currently about 12 billion gallons per year, and which is capped at 15 billion gallons per year.
100 million gallons of next-generation biofuels produced this year? Big whoop. Americans burn 378 million gallons of gasoline a day, according to EIA. That’s 138 billion gallons a year.
“Next-generation U.S. biofuel capacity should reach about 88 million gallons in 2010, thanks in large measure to one plant becoming commercially operational in 2010, using non-cellulosic animal fat to produce green diesel. U.S. production capacity for cellulosic biofuels is estimated to be 10 million gallons for 2010, much less than the 100 million gallons originally mandated for use by the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act. In early 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency lowered the cellulosic biofuel mandate to 6.5 million gallons, more in line with production prospects.”
“Developing the capacity to use multiple feedstocks and to produce biobased fuels that are equivalent to fossil fuels that can be used in current vehicles without limit and distributed seamlessly in the existing transportation sector may become the least risky business model to pursue.”
Who’s making plans for renewable fuel production in hometown America? Who’s laying the business and technology foundation to develop advanced biofuels near you? Look around and you’ll see plenty of waste and biomass resources that could make water soluble, biodegradable fuel for a global marketplace. Look a bit further and you’ll see an opportunity to make an energy product the entire world needs and almost nobody makes yet: Cleaner fuel from stuff nobody wants.
Your trash, along with your neighbor’s trash, and non-crop biomass, is a constantly replenishing stream of renewable energy resources that can be converted into valuable mixed alcohol fuels. Think big here, there’s plenty of trash and biomass, and plenty of coal, coal fines, petroleum coke, or flare gas and methane.
Right now it’s just more municipal solid waste headed to the landfill or incinerator to make marginal amounts of electricity at best. Just another day in a status quo that no longer quite serves.
America doesn’t just need national legislation to support clean energy investment and promote a cleaner environment, it needs committed people in America’s cities and economic regions, armed with cleaner fuels technologies to convert what’s currently viewed as waste into dollars and sense. Waste, like politics, is local. And so is green energy.
Enough excuses. Let’s make cleaner fuels the world can use. What’s beyond dirty petroleum? Clean mixed alcohols.
We have all heard the expression that “history repeats itself.” It has been uttered for centuries, by intelligent and studious men in Greek, Roman and Chinese literature, and has been expressed so many times over the centuries that we just naturally assume that it is true. Well let’s look at some statements from the past and see if they relate to what is happening today. I believe that we will all agree that it is beneficial to study the past so as to see the mistakes, and the successes, of men and nations (empires) that preceded us. We are then able to replicate that which is useful for success and survival, and we can also avoid that which has proved to lead to failure. It is dangerous for us as individuals, and for we as a nation, to ignore the mistakes of the past.
Tomorrow’s history is being created today, as we go about our personal business and family lives amidst great financial and environmental turmoil in the world around us. Will our history be marred by negligence and default or will we become active creators of value and better managers of our future legacy? It’s our choice.
In Montana, life goes on more or less as it has since frontier days. The deer and the antelope still play. The buffalo still roam, at least in some areas of the state. The bear, the elk, and the reintroduced wolf, still thrive.
Of course, western Montanans stopped shooting up the saloons and at each other long ago, traded their horses for cars, and built the highway (Highway 93) that today serves as a key economic lifeline to dozens of far-flung communities from south of the Idaho border north to Missoula.
We’ve come a long way since horse and buggy days. But the real work is ahead. Our quality of life is second to none, but we still don’t know the first thing about digging ourselves out of the massive hole we’ve dug along the way with regard to energy, our economy and the environment.
We’ve only just begun to investigate clean coal technology which uses gasification to greatly reduce carbon emissions, letalone retrofit any power plants. But it’s coming, sure as the sun shines, because it’s important and needed.
It’s also time to focus on taking a truly radical action with gasification tech in our own backyard: cleaning up our municipal trash and excess biomass, profitably and sustainably, right here in the Bitterroot valley. Gasification is a compelling solution for lots of reasons, both environmental and economic!
With America facing a steep uphill climb to economic stability, there’s never been a better time to develop locally owned gasification facilities to convert household waste and biomass to energy. Trash and sustainable biomass to make these projects profitable is almost everywhere! What’s more, the revenue generated from energy created by these facilities can belong to the communities where they will be located. Gasification is a compelling solution for lots of reasons, both environmental and economic!
The human race has never been good about cleaning up after itself. We’ve always had plenty of room to dump our trash and waste somewhere and cover it with dirt. Or pile and burn it or incinerate it. Sure, some elements of trash get recycled (aluminum, steel, cardboard, etc.) but not very much in the big scheme of things.
Just another day in Montana. And another 340 tons of solid waste on its way to the Missoula landfill.
You can bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow and every day thereafter there will be another 340 tons of trash heading to the landfill. And hundreds of slash piles from thinning and logging projects going up in smoke too.
Nothing about how we manage trash has changed. And nothing will, unless we choose to actively support a venture to build a gasification facility right here in the Bitterroot.
What should we do about the millions upon millions of beetle-killed trees in the West, especially in Montana? While people debate the merits and feasibility of taking action, one major aspect of the discussion has yet to really be discussed: biofuels.
From the Missoulian article:
“Even if we had the infrastructure and logging community we used to have, we couldn’t get this all off the ground,” Siedlitz said. “Thinning is just negative logging. It doesn’t pay for itself. If we could do something with the biomass so it was profitable to take it off, that might be something.”
We agree, “that” might be something! And “that” might even pay for itself and then some!