Moving Toward a Clean and Renewable Future

The success of cellulosic ethanol is critical to the success of all renewables. We will continue fighting to keep the renewable fuel standard at the levels Congress intended to maintain market stability and increase investment in next-gen biofuels.
By Bob Dinneen | March 06, 2014

The year 1970 marked a distinct turning point in the way Americans view the environment.  Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson, along with concerned citizens across the country, began the Earth Day movement that changed America’s priorities for the next 44 years. The creation of Earth Day on April 22, 1970, began to shift the way we think about environmental policies, forcing us to consider the ecological consequences of fossil fuel production and the clean energy potential of renewable fuels.

Flash forward to today. It’s now 2014 and the push for clean renewable fuels is in full swing. Ethanol has taken off and is now blended into 97 percent of U.S. gasoline, effectively replacing 476 million barrels of imported oil. A new study conducted by Life Cycle Associates, and commissioned by the Renewable Fuels Association, recently found that, “As the average carbon intensity of petroleum is gradually increasing, the carbon intensity of corn ethanol is declining.”

The study delves deeper into the numbers, finding that corn ethanol reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 32 percent compared to gasoline, including indirect land use change. Additionally, corn ethanol reduces GHG emissions by 37 percent compared to tight oil from fracking and 40 percent compared to tar sands. Sen. Nelson would have been proud of these environmental enhancing accomplishments. But we won’t stop there. Out of the different feedstocks that produce ethanol, cellulosic is the least carbon intensive of all. Therefore, as we expand and move toward a cleaner, greener future, the commercial success of cellulosic ethanol is critical to both political and market success for all renewables.

As we speak, Ineos Bio is producing ethanol out of vegetative, yard and municipal solid waste. Abengoa BioEnergy and Poet-DSM are expected to start cellulosic ethanol production early this year. Additional facilities are under construction including DuPont Cellulosic Ethanol and Quad County Corn Processors’ bolt-on facility.

While we see success both in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and advancement into next generation biofuels, the ethanol industry is under attack today. The U.S. EPA is pushing to reduce the levels of ethanol blended into gasoline. The 2007 passage of the Energy Independence and Security Act led to dramatic expansion of corn-based ethanol. That success laid the foundation for the advancements in cellulosic and advanced ethanol. We will continue fighting to keep the renewable fuel standard at the levels Congress intended so there is stability and growth in the ethanol market and increased investment in next-generation biofuels.

Sen. Nelson stated on the 25th anniversary of Earth Day, "The opportunity for a gradual but complete break with our destructive environmental history and a new beginning is at hand…. We can measure up to the challenge if we have the will to do so—that is the only question. I am optimistic that this generation will have the foresight and the will to begin the task of forging a sustainable society."
Yes, Sen. Nelson, we are up to the challenge. Is the EPA?

Author: Bob Dinneen
President and CEO,
Renewable Fuels Association