Proposed rule defines corn fiber ethanol, butanol as advanced

By Holly Jessen | May 23, 2013

A new proposed rulemaking from the U.S. EPA includes several possible modifications to the renewable fuel standard program, including categorizing as advanced biofuels ethanol produced from corn fiber and butanol that meets the 50 percent greenhouse gas emission reduction.

Bob Perciasepe, EPA acting administrator, signed the notice of proposed rulemaking on May 20 and it has been submitted for publication in the U.S. Federal Register. The comment period is for 30 days following publication in the Federal Register. Although the EPA said it isn’t expecting a request for a public hearing, if one is requested the agency will announce the time and place for a hearing as well as a new deadline for public comments.

The Biotechnology Industry Organization said in a press release that it appreciated the EPA moving forward as rapidly as possible as companies continue to invest in and build an advanced biofuel industry. “Finalization of new pathways will clear the way for companies to bring innovative technologies to the marketplace,” said Brent Erickson, executive vice president of BIO’s industrial and environmental section. “Delays can determine whether these companies succeed or fail and whether investors remain confident.”

One element of the proposed rule is that corn kernel fiber would be categorized as a crop residue, meaning it would qualify as a cellulosic ethanol feedstock. That’s news researchers at the National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center have been hoping for in the more than four years the topic has been studied there. NCERC first announced it had successfully produced cellulosic ethanol from corn bran or fiber in May 2012. “We’ve got a lot of momentum in this work, and it’s momentum that we want to continue forward,” said John Caupert, NCERC’s director.

NCERC has long held that cellulosic ethanol from corn fiber is a viable way to transition from first generation ethanol to cellulosic ethanol and on to other advanced biofuels, said Sabrina Trupia, assistant director of biological research for NCERC. In the years that NCERC has studied corn fiber-to-cellulosic ethanol many people have expressed skepticism. The EPA’s proposed rule makes Trupia feel vindicated and happy that NCERC’s persistence paid off. “When it came out yesterday, we were dancing in the corridors,” she said.

Of course, it’s not a done deal yet, Caupert clarified. NCERC will be submitting comments in support of the proposed rule and will encourage others to do the same, he said.

Others are working toward cellulosic ethanol production from corn fiber. The list includes, but is not limited to, ICM Inc.  and Quad County Corn Processors.

Gevo Inc. and Butamax Advanced Biofuels LLC, two companies working toward commercial-scale production of biobutanol (also referred to as isobutanol), were also pleased with the proposed rule. “We applaud the EPA’s proposed amendments to the renewable fuel standard including the introduction of new pathway determinations for advanced biofuels such as isobutuanol,” said Brett Lund, executive vice president and general counsel for Gevo.

Butamax, a joint venture of BP and DuPont, said if the proposed rule becomes final it would have a positive effect on the company’s biofuel business. “Butamax supports EPA's clarifications on commingling of butanol-blended gasolines as an important step in facilitating initial entry of butanol into the gasoline market,” said Mark Buse, company spokesperson.

Another part of the proposed rule is various changes to the E15 misfueling mitigation regulations. According to an industry insider, the proposed changes to the E15 are technical corrections that won't have any practical impacts on the sale of E15 or ethanol producers.