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cellulosic biofuel

RFS in Limelight, but Cellulosics Hope to Steal the Show

cellulosic biofuelAs the Renewable Fuel Standard debate rages on in the halls of Congress, agencies are trying to stimulate the development of the fledgling advanced biofuels industry.

Corn ethanol producers suffered a setback last month when the EPA cut its overall ethanol mandate for the first time since Congress instituted the rule in 2007. That move hasn’t quelled the anti-RFS ire of some legislators – in fact, it may have encouraged them. Yesterday a bipartisan group of eight senators introduced a bill to repeal the RFS top-line mandate, but leave intact requirements for non-corn-based advanced biofuels.

The distinction is an important one. Cellulosic biofuels hold the promise of increasing the renewable fuel supply without hurting food prices. But the much-heralded advanced technology has so far failed to live up to expectations, with no company yet making the biofuel profitably at scale, as Andrew Soare of Lux Research explains in the latest issue of EL Analysts.

The government isn’t giving up yet, though. Yesterday the USDA and DOE announced $8 million in research grants to develop non-food bioenergy feedstocks.

Meanwhile the USDA and Navy announced a “Farm-to-Fleet” venture that they say will make biofuel blends part of regular, operational fuel purchase and use by the military. The announcement incorporates the acquisition of biofuel blends into regular Department of Defense domestic solicitations for jet engine and marine diesel fuels. The Navy will seek to purchase JP-5 and F-76 advanced drop-in biofuels, blended at 10 to 50 percent with conventional fuels.

Preliminary indications are that drop-in biofuels will be available for less than $4 per gallon by 2016, making them competitive with traditional sources of fuel, the departments say.

Takeaway: While the policy debate rages on corn ethanol, industry and government are trying to make cellulosic biofuel ready for prime time.

Tamar Wilner is Senior Editor at Environmental Leader PRO.

Pictured: Samples of biomass catalysts in one of NREL’s thermochemical laboratories. Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL.

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