Pending Minnesota bill gears up for E15, biobutanol

By Holly Jessen | March 05, 2013

Legislation is working its way through the Minnesota state House of Representatives and Senate that would open the door for E15, biobutanol and other biofuels. “The underlining objective is to displace 30 percent petroleum by 2025,” said Tim Rudnicki, executive director of the Minnesota Biofuels Association.

Senate bill 448 and its companion bill, House bill 462,have worked their way through several committee hearings. The Senate bill was last referred to the State and Local Government Committee while the House bill is on the schedule for a March 5 Government Operations Committee meeting.

Brian Kletscher, CEO of Lamberton, Minn., ethanol plant Highwater Ethanol LLC, said he was hopeful the bill would be approved by both the House and Senate sometime this year, and get signed into law by the governor. It’s a different approach than legislation he’s seen in other states, supporting both continued research in biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol and biobutanol as well as the existing ethanol industry. “Without the strong ethanol industry that we currently have in place, none of this would be attainable,” he pointed out. Kletscher also added that the introduction of new biofuels doesn’t take anything away from the first generation industry, but actually makes it stronger.

One facet of the bill is that it replaces the word ethanol with the broader word biofuel. “The aim of the word change is to accommodate all those biofuels that are approved by the US. EPA,” Rudnicki said. That prepares the way for E15 and other midlevel blends, should higher levels be approved in the future. It also covers isobutanol or biobutanol, which Colorado-based biobutanol firm Gevo Inc. is working to produce at a retrofitted corn ethanol plant in Luverne, Minn.

Work on this started during the last legislative session, when the Minnesota Commissioner of Agriculture was directed to convene the Biofuels Advisory Taskforce. “The aim of the taskforce was to figure out how to keep current ethanol industry strong while opening up the market to a whole host of biofuels,” Rudnicki said.

The taskforce was made up of 25 stakeholders from the ethanol, biobutanol, environmental and other biofuel subject matter experts that met several times during the summer and fall of last year. A consensus document was developed, which was accepted as prepared by the Next Generation Energy Board and then submitted to the Minnesota legislature. “What the bill does is it attempts to capture the elements that were agreed upon by this stakeholder group,” Rudnicki said.

Kletscher, who was a member of the taskforce, said biofuels make up about 11 percent of the transportation fuel mix in Minnesota. The bill offers the state a pathway to ramping up to its goal of 30 percent biofuels by 2025. The first step up is targeted for 14 percent biofuels by 2015, followed by 18 percent by 2017, 25 percent by 2020 and 30 percent by 2025.