Cellulosic Biofuel Needs More Support, Says Environmental Agency

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An organization called Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) this week said in a statement that it expects the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to “dramatically lower the amount of cellulosic biofuel companies are required to purchase under the federal renewable fuel standard.”

Cellulosic biofuel, also known as second-generation biofuel, can be obtained from perennial grasses, waste and other sources of biomass, meaning it does not compete with food crops and is more environmentally sound than corn ethanol.

“This is a clear sign that current federal policies don’t work, and won’t deliver the environmental, economic and energy security benefits cellulosic biofuels could provide,” said Jeremy Martin, a senior scientist in UCS’s Clean Vehicles Program. “If we’re ever going to get the cellulosic biofuel industry off the ground, we’re going to have to reform biofuel policies.”

UCS says that according to the renewable fuel standard in the 2007 energy bill, the requirement was for fuel providers to purchase 250 million gallons of cellulosic biofuel in 2012. However, EPA has indicated it will lower the requirement to somewhere between five to 17.1 million gallons, with no precise number specified yet. Martin points to the recession as the cause for the shortfall, which has made securing financing difficult for the emerging cellulose ethanol industry.

He also highlights what he calls “flawed government policies” which favour corn ethanol. The latter’s lobby is trying to get an extension of a $6 billion tax credit, called Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit, which is scheduled to expire this year.

“The corn ethanol industry needs to step back from the feeding trough,” Martin said. “Instead of wasting money supporting mature industries, we need policies that deliver real benefits to taxpayers and protect the environment. A better option would be to invest in the next generation of clean cellulosic biofuels, and to support all biofuel producers that act to make their fuels cleaner. If we reformed biofuel policy, we could get the first billion gallons of cellulosic biofuels online quickly and at a quarter of the cost of current tax credits”, he says.

UCS says it supports a performance-based tax credit for biofuel production. Companies would be rewarded according to how much fossil fuel is displaced by their products as well as how much reduction in greenhouse emissions they promote. Cleaner biofuels would benefit, they say, while corn ethanol manufacturers would have to get more efficient and cleaner to qualify.

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