Detroit Bureau on Twitter

Posts Tagged ‘ethanol’

EPA Sets Renewable Fuel Standards below Mandate

Cellulosic volume is lower than the Congressional EISA target.

by on Jul.12, 2010

As always, the devil will be in the final rule details after lobbyists shape the regulations.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today proposed that the 2011 percentage standards for the four fuels categories under the agency’s Renewable Fuel Standard program must make up 7.95% of total gasoline sales.

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) established annual renewable fuel volume targets, reaching an overall level of 36 billion gallons in 2022 – 16 billion gallons of cellulosic biofuels; 15 billion gallons annually of conventional biofuels; 4 billion gallons of advanced biofuels; and 1 billion gallons of biomass-based diesel.

The 16-billion gallon cellulosic target looks laughable – EPA is projecting that less than 18 million gallons of the fuel will be available in 2011.

As the implications of the act continue to unfold, critics call it a needless subsidy for agri-business, one that would take food out of production.Hence the push for cellulosic since it can in theory be made form non-agricultural crops on land not in food production.

Mandating demand for products that don’t yet exist or haven’t been proven commercially viable or are not cost effective is the height of U.S. Congressional folly, in their view. In addition, a fierce debate about how much some of these fuels actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions is underway.

Almost every gallon of gasoline now sold in the U.S. contains ethanol: 98% as E10 – up to 10% ethanol for conventional autos, and 2% as E85 – 85% ethanol/15% gasoline for use in flex fuel vehicles only. (See How a Bad Bush Administration Energy Policy Begets More Bad Policy?)

Current law and infrastructure preclude the use of greater than 10% ethanol blends in conventional autos although agricultural industry lobbyists are pushing for higher levels. In 2012, the E10 market reaches saturation at approximately 12.5 – 14 billion gallons of ethanol annually. (See President Takes Steps to Boost Biofuels, Coal Use) EPA is considering upping the required amount of ethanol right now,  but isn’t due to rule until this fall.


To achieve the volumes required by EISA, EPA calculates a percentage-based standard for the following year. Based on the standard, each refiner, importer and non-oxygenate blender of gasoline determines the minimum volume of renewable fuel that it must be used in transportation fuel.

The proposed 2011 overall volumes and standards are:

  • Biomass-based diesel (0.80 billion gallons – 0.68%)
  • Advanced biofuels (1.35 billion gallons – 0.77%)
  • Cellulosic biofuels (5 to 17.1 million gallons – 0.004-0.015%)
  • Total renewable fuels (13.95 billion gallons-7.95%)


U.S. DOE and GM to Test Grow Jatropha in India

Oily weed holds promise as a sustainable biodiesel feedstock.

by on Mar.30, 2010

The goal of the project is to demonstrate that jatropha can produce significant quantities of oil for conversion to biodiesel.

The goal of the project is to demonstrate that the weed can produce significant enough amounts of oil for conversion to biodiesel fuel.

General Motors Company announced today a five-year partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to help develop the jatropha plant for what could evolve into a sustainable biofuel energy crop.

Jatropha plants produce an oil that can be refined into biodiesel fuel.

The drought-resistant, non-edible plant can be grown commercially with modest care on marginal land.

To explore whether new varieties of the plant can produce high enough yields to make it viable while thriving in temperate climates in the U.S. is the point of the experiment.

“Discovering new sources for biodiesel production is an important part of DOE research and development efforts,” said Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. “The expertise of this team can help speed the pace for the development of jatropha as a biofuel crop.”

Two jatropha farms will be established in India: a 16-hectare (39.5 acre) plot in Bhavnagar and a 38-hectare (93.9 acre) plot in Kalol, near GM’s India Car Manufacturing plant. An existing 30-hectare (74.1 acre) jatropha farm in Bhavnagar also will be managed under this project.

Lab-optimized strains of jatropha will be cultivated at these farms.

The joint DOE-GM funding, an unspecified amount, will also enable the Central Salt & Marine Chemicals Research Institute (CSMCRI)—an Indian Government research facility, to  manage all of the 84 hectares (840,000 m2).   (more…)

Government Waste Paper Fueled Car Debuts

Novozymes claims improved technology for advanced biofuels.

by on Jan.26, 2010

The elusive pursuit of a viable

The elusive pursuit of a commercially viable cellulose-derived fuel continues.

In a publicity stunt that attempts to prove a point about biofuels made from waste, a Chevy fueled with the byproducts of government office paper and cardboard will appear on the streets of Washington D.C. today.

A small company called Novozymes has collaborated with Maryland-based Fiberight to provide the demonstration fuel.

Taxpayers, who also underwrite the production of government paper, funded the research. Novozymes received two contracts from the Department of Energy for its research efforts to bring down the cost of enzymes and improve their efficiency in converting cellulose to biofuels. The first contract for $2.2 million was given in 2002, and the second for $12.3 million was given in 2008.

Automakers are given fuel economy credits for producing ethanol-compatible vehicles even though few of them are ever operated on ethanol, which is not cost competitive with gasoline with current production methods.

It is thought that using biomass – inexpensive farm waste – could radically alter the economics of ethanol. For example, making ethanol from the cellulose of plants is less costly than using corn grain. Switch grass, a crop that grows readily in the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains, and corn leaves and stalks or other crop wastes are cheap to acquire and potentially solve the starvation issue, which arises from using corn for fuel instead of feed.


The lower cost could also end the huge taxpayer subsidies, although the farm lobby holds powerful sway in the “pay to play” Washington scene and  has successful defended against reformers its taxpayer supplied pork for decades.    (more…)

Biomass Ethanol Moves a Semi-Step Forward

Coskata starts up a flexible ethanol plant in Pennsylvania.

by on Oct.15, 2009

It is thought that using biomass – inexpensive farm waste – could radically alter the economics of ethanol.

Using biomass – inexpensive farm waste – could radically alter the economics of ethanol.

Coskata Inc., a developer of biofuels, today announced the successful start-up of its semi-commercial flex-ethanol plant in Madison, Pennsylvania.

The operation potentially represents a successful scale-up of company’s experimental technology. It could evolve into the world’s first commercially-viable ethanol process that would use bio-mass rather than foodstocks, such as corn, which are currently used for the mass production of ethanol.

U.S. energy policy, which grants ethanol a 52-cent per gallon taxpayer subsidy to politically connected farmers, is controversial since production of the fuel over its life cycle consumes as much or more energy as it produces. Furthermore, numerous studies have shown that if ethanol were to replace oil, people would starve from the resulting lack of grain in the world’s markets. U.S. tariff policy also effectively blocks the importation of sugar-cane-derived ethanol from Brazil, currently a much more efficient process.

Feedstock for the Mind!

Feedstock for the Mind!

It is thought that using biomass – inexpensive farm waste – could radically alter the economics of ethanol. For example, making ethanol from the cellulose of plants is less costly than using corn grain. Switch grass, a crop that grows readily in the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains, and corn leaves and stalks or other crop wastes are cheap to acquire and potentially solve the starvation issue. The lower cost could also end the huge taxpayer subsidies, although the farm lobby holds powerful sway in the pay to play Washington scene.


President’s Emerging Energy Plan Renews the Renewable Fuel Debate

A taxpayer subsidy to agribusiness could morph into another American War of Independence. But here come the lobbyists.

by on May.12, 2009

A New Jersey political background will help Jackson dealing with the mob of lobbyists.

A New Jersey political past will help Jackson with the mob of lobbyists.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is calling for a science-based review of the four renewable fuel categories that it announced earlier this month under its proposed Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS2). For the first time, some renewable fuels must achieve greenhouse gas emission reductions compared to the gasoline and diesel fuels they displace. Also for the first time, all transportation fuels are covered, not just gasoline. EPA wants to determine if using bio fuels really do decrease greenhouse gas emissions when an analysis is conducted over the entire life of the fuels.

A political struggle is developing with corn-based ethanol producers and soy-based biomass diesel producers whose fuels likely will not meet the proposed tests. EPA has proposed some sort of grandfathering for existing production plants, but has limited the output to existing levels.

From an economic point of view, the current taxpayer subsidies for ethanol make no sense. Now the real possibility exists that some renewable fuels are unhealthy too. For producers and investors in these fuels, billions of dollars are at stake. A public hearing on June 9th will no doubt be lively.

The health issue is only the latest twist in the tortured road the EPA has been on over fuel economy and global warming standards. After a “thorough scientific review” ordered in 2007 by the U.S. Supreme Court, EPA issued a proposed finding in April that said greenhouse gases contribute to air pollution and may endanger public health or welfare. It is now moving ahead in several areas that will affect not only your future driving but the use of any machine that uses fuel.

The proposed RFS2 thresholds for the new fuel categories would be 20% less greenhouse gas emissions for renewable fuels produced from new facilities, 50% less for biomass-based diesel and advanced biofuels, and 60% less for cellulosic biofuels.    (more…)

How a Bad Bush Administration Energy Policy Begets More Bad Policy?

Lavish taxpayer subsidies for ethanol fuels are not enough agri-business says. Hang onto your wallet as they ask for more.

by on Apr.16, 2009


There are far too many subsidized ethanol plants to meet too little demand for the gasoline additive.

The United States Environmental Protection agency this morning requested public comments on a waiver application to increase the amount of ethanol that can be blended into a gallon of gasoline to up to 15% of volume (E15). At the heart of this seemingly innocent request is a push by taxpayer-subsidized fat cats in the agricultural sector to have you pay more for a gallon of fuel even as demand declines and fuel efficiency increases.

Since 1978, the limit has been 10% ethanol (E10) for conventional (non flex-fuel) vehicles for sound technical reasons – ethanol picks up water and corrodes the fuel systems of the vast majority of vehicles on the road today. It also has less energy density per gallon than gasoline, which means that ethanol fuels provide fewer miles per gallon when you use a fuel with it, adding increased driving cost to the insult of taxpayer subsidies.

The request for the waiver to increase the percentage of ethanol in the fuel you buy comes from 54 ethanol manufacturers who are struggling to remain in business since the price of oil has dropped. Now even the taxpayer subsidized cost of ethanol is no longer competitive on the market. Today regular gasoline is averaging $2.05 a gallon, down from $3.40/gallon a year ago, according to AAA.

In the face of a decline in gasoline usage in the U.S., where even ExxonMobil says demand is probably at or near its peak, there are far too many ethanol plants to meet too little demand for the gasoline additive.

You are already subsidizing ethanol at 45 cents per gallon by way of a tax credit to companies that blend ethanol with gasoline, as well as a requirement that ethanol be blended into gasoline. As a result, U.S. consumption of ethanol last year exceeded 9 billion gallons — a record high, according to the Congressional Budget Office. That credit is costing U.S. taxpayers revenue losses of between $3 and $4 billion a year.

This production subsidy for ethanol applies to both domestic and imported ethanol, but the United States charges importers of ethanol a tariff of 54 cents per gallon and an ad valorem tariff of 2.5% of the value of the imported ethanol, which means countries such as Brazil that can produce ethanol much more efficiently than the U.S. are blocked from selling it here. (Prices for ethanol sold in the United States fluctuated between $1.61 and $2.90 per gallon in 2008.)

It was the business-interest subservient Bush Administration that put the subsidies in place by way of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, and mandated that the required usage of biofuels in the United States be at least 20.5 billion gallons annually by 2015, or more than double the country’s usage in 2008. This from an administration that professed to “let the free market sort things out” while its leader Bush — aka “I’m the decider” — was doing exactly the opposite. (more…)

Interest in EVs Gaining Ground

by on Feb.10, 2009

Interest in electric vehicles, like Chevy's Volt, is charging up

Interest in electric vehicles, like Chevy's Volt, is charging up

A new study from Maritz Automotive Research Group suggests consumer interest in new automotive technology is continuing to grow, particularly when it comes to electric vehicles.

Maritz’s Automotive Research Group has been tracking awareness of alternative fuels in its annual New Vehicle Customer Study (NVCS) since 2005, and the data show electric power growing as a primary alternative fuel among the current choices. Approximately 9 percent of consumers, who bought or leased a new vehicle in 2008, judge the electric-powered vehicle as the alternative fuel that was most appealing. As measured by the Maritz survey, the appeal of the electric vehicles has grown from 3.4 percent in 2006, to 6.6 percent in 2007 to 9.4 percent.

Another finding of the survey, which has held up in each of the past three years, was that interest is higher among those who purchased or leased a car rather than a light truck, suggesting a natural market divide could develop as more electric vehicles come on the market.


Greener Ethanol a Step Closer to a Pump Near You

Nation's largest ethanol supplier has cellulosic pilot plant up and running in South Dakota

by on Feb.09, 2009

poets-projectThe holy grail of renewable fuels is a commercially viable process for converting cellulosic materials into convenient, combustible liquids that can power cars and trucks. The longstanding challenge is breaking down cellulose into smaller molecules that can be re-assembled into ethanol or other fuels.

Cellulose is the stuff of which plants are mostly made, and it’s comprised of a long, tough chains of sugar-like compounds that God created (or nature evolved, if you will) for the express purpose of resisting breakdown.

With their multiple stomachs, cows break down cellulose just fine. The problem is that they (more specifically, the enzymes in their guts) are rather slow about it compared to the rate at which it needs to be digested to supply any meaningful portion of the 160 billion gallons of gasoline we guzzle each year. Those enzymes and the biorefining processes that use them are still quite pricey compared to what it costs to refine petroleum, unless oil gets (and stays) much more expensive than it is today.

Nonetheless, progress is being made. A notable development was recently announced by POET Energy, the nation’s largest ethanol producer. POET has taken its cellulosic ethanol process out of the lab and into a pilot plant now up and running in Scotland, South Dakota, a small town about an hour and a half southwest of Sioux Falls.


Shift to Alternative Fuels Continuing

Recession, low gas prices can't halt switch.

by on Feb.06, 2009

Making a better case for alternative fuels

Making a better case for alternative fuels

Recession or not, the auto industry, or at least elements of it, are setting course for a greener future.

Ricardo Inc. of Van Buren, Mi., the American arm of the British engineering firm Ricardo plc, has announced it has developed technology that optimizes ethanol-fueled engines to a level of performance that exceeds gasoline engine efficiency and approaches levels previously reached only by diesel engines.

The technology, called Ethanol Boosted Direct Injection or EBDI, takes full advantage of ethanol’s best properties – higher octane and higher heat of vaporization – to create a truly renewable fuel scenario that is independent of the cost of oil.

“Developing renewable energy applications that can lead to energy independence is a top priority at Ricardo,” said Ricardo President Dean Harlow. “We’ve moved past theoretical discussion and are busy applying renewable energy technology to the real world. The EBDI engine project is a great example because it turns the gasoline-ethanol equation upside down. It has the performance of diesel, at the cost of ethanol, and runs on ethanol, gasoline, or a blend of both.”


One More Brew for the Road?

Sierra Nevada brewers want to tank up.

by on Feb.04, 2009

Some might call it a tragedy - Sierra Nevada turns beer to ethanol

Some might call it a tragedy - Sierra Nevada turns beer to ethanol

How about one more for the road? The folks at the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. has an interesting alternative to those who hate to see our corn crops turned into bio-fuel. Working with California-based E-Fuel, which developed the world’s first home ethanol production system, the brewer will help to turn its beer leftovers into a liquid you pour into your fuel tank, rather than your belly.

Before you start screaming, “Oh, the humanity,” understand that the process will rely not on beer itself. You won’t have the option, at the pump, between lager, pilsner and heffeweisse. It’s the stuff found at the bottom of the barrel, about 1.6 million gallons a year of unusable beer yeast, which is otherwise sold off to farmers to feed some lucky – if hung over – livestock.

Normally containing about 5 to 8 percent alcohol, E-Fuel’s new methods will transform the sludge into ethanol, which can be mixed with gasoline, in various dilutions, to run many of today’s flex-fuel vehicles.

Tomorrow's beer-powered beer truck?

Tomorrow's beer-powered beer truck?

“Creating ethanol from discarded organic waste is an excellent example of how the MicroFueler can help eliminate our reliance on the oil industry infrastructure. This is especially true when considering Americans reportedly discard 50 percent of all agricultural farmed products,” said Tom Quinn, E-Fuel founder and chief executive officer. “Using a waste product to fuel your car is friendlier to the environment and lighter on your wallet, easily beating prices at the gas pump.”

A test run will begin by mid-year and if it proves out, those beer trucks delivering Sierra Nevada products to your local liquor store just might be running on beer byproducts before the end of 2009.