NRC Report Claims Federal Biofuel Mandate is Flawed



Ethanol plant in Turner County, SD, USA. Image by Jon Platek.

Ethanol plant in Turner County, SD, USA. Image by Jon Platek.

The US National Research Council released a report suggesting that federal biofuel mandate RSF2 is infeasible barring new technology progress. RSF2 is part of the Renewable Fuel Standard which was enacted by Congress as part of the Energy Policy Act. The mandate outlines the consumption volume of renewable fuels and would require 15 billion gallons of conventional biofuels, 15 billion gallons of cellulosic biofuels, 4 billion gallons of advanced biofuels, and 1 billion gallons of biomass based diesel by 2020.

With 13.2 billion gallons of corn-based ethanol and 311 million gallons of biomass based diesel being produced last year alone it should be easy to meet the first and last goal. However the biofuels industry felt that the report failed to properly calculate the impact of greenhouse gas emissions and other impacts from clearing land required to meet the cellulosic biofuels goal. NRC’s report says, “If the expanded production involves removing perennial vegetation on a piece of land and replacing it with an annual commodity crop, then the land-use change would incur a one-time GHG emission from biomass and soil that could be large enough to offset GHG benefits gained by displacing petroleum-based fuels with biofuels over subsequent years.”

Additionally the report points out that there are currently no commercial refineries producing cellulose ethanol in the US. Without significant technological advances or a major spike in oil prices the report suggests meeting the cellulosic biofuel goal will be infeasible. The report goes on to say, “Absent major increases in agricultural yields and improvement in the efficiency of converting biomass to fuels, additional cropland will be required for cellulosic feedstock production; thus, implementation … is expected to create competition among different land uses, raise cropland prices, and increase the cost of food and feed production.”

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