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Cellulosic, sugarcane, and biodiesel all get bigger bumps as well

For environmentalists and those pushing for oil independence the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency delivered mixed results, in its newly published 2012 alternative fuels targets.

I. New Mandatory Fuel Targets Land

The EPA has been granted the power by Congress to push alternative fuel targets under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA), signed into law by President Bush.  The EISA set a hard target of reaching 36 billion gallons of production by 2022.

The EPA's proposed changes are seen below:


Yep, that's right the EPA is quietly bumping its corn ethanol production targets.  

II. Corn Ethanol Bump Sure to Produce Controversy

Of course the EPA also contains much larger increases for cellulosic ethanol/butanol (derived from woody plant waste); biomass-based diesel (e.g. refined spent cooking oil); and "advanced biofuel" (sugarcane ethanol, algal oil, etc.).  

It’s broadly known that corn ethanol both increases greenhouse gas emissions and increases food prices.  On the other hand it does provide a small shred of domestic security by removing some dependence on volatile foreign sources.

Corn ethanol
Corn ethanol is a contentious proposition. [Image Source: Cagle Cartoons]

Generally the mood is shifting against corn ethanol.  The EPA appears to be in the minority of remaining federal supporters.  Congress recently finalized the cut to corn ethanol's tax subsidy.

However, the corn ethanol industry will likely push the issue by simply raising prices to recoup their lost subsidy.  After all, for now the EPA has the right to force importers and refiners to use a certain amount of corn ethanol, regardless of how expensive it is.

III. Numbers Show Hope for Cellulosic Ethanol, Rising Promise of Algal Fuel

One interesting thing in the above figures to note is just how small the cellulosic ethanol market still is.  When the EISA was first proposed, the intended target for this type of biofuel was 250 million -- it's now orders of magnitude smaller.

Cellulosic ethanol
[Image Source: ASPO USA]

Cellulosic ethanol startup companies like Coskata seemed promising, but difficulty in establishing a solid food-chain to deliver biomass stock and finding the funding to scale laboratory work to production-scale designs has led to the great cellulosic ethanol fizzle.

That said, there's still hope for this novel technology, which generally earns praise for turning non-viable biomaterial (woody waste) into fuel.  Unlike the last few years, in 2012 the EPA is actually increasing the cellulosic ethanol target from the prior year (the last few years have been a series of declines).  That could signal the industry is turning the corner.

The steep rise in advanced biofuel also may be coming thanks to the U.S. Navy's deep investment in algal fuel, which cut costs from $424 USD/gallon last year to $26.67 USD/gallon this year.

Looking ahead, there's likely to be a brewing fight over the very large remaining corn ethanol requirement.  One can only hope that Congress doesn't throw out the baby with the bathwater and ditch all of the requirements, including those that foster more fundamentally sound alternative fuel technologies like algal biofuel.

Sources: EPA [2012], [2011]

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This statistic is really disturbing
By Shig on 12/30/2011 3:50:48 PM , Rating: 2

The DOE just released a study detailing how many flex fuel stations there are in the US (E85). There are 7.6 million vehicles on the roads today capable of using E85, there are a total of 2,468 registered stations to fill up...

RE: This statistic is really disturbing
By Motoman on 12/30/2011 3:55:03 PM , Rating: 5
The only part about that that's disturbing is how the ethanol is getting into the fuel. From food. You're an idiot of biblical proportions if you think fuel from food is anything other than a tragedy.

RE: This statistic is really disturbing
By dgingerich on 12/31/11, Rating: -1
RE: This statistic is really disturbing
By m51 on 12/31/2011 2:40:53 PM , Rating: 5
We do not have a surplus of agricultural land. Certainly not to waste on Biofuels.

To provide enough corn ethanol to fulfill our needs for vehicle fuel would require 6 times the total agricultural land area available in the US. Corn ethanol is very marginal in it's ability to produce fuel efficiently, it uses almost as much energy to produce the fuel as the fuel itself contains.Sugar Cane is 6 times more efficient than corn for ethanol production, but it will not grow in our temperate climate. Even if you could grow it here the land area required and the water needs are not possible to meet.

So it consumes enormous amounts of water and land, causes top soil loss and water pollution, puts an added burden on the tax payers for subsidies, increases vehicle maintenance costs, increases food costs almost across the board, increase fuel costs, all for no added advantage to the environment or the economy.

The only people winning out here are Archer Daniel Midlands corp and ConAgra. To the tune of $6 BILLION dollars a year of taxpayer subsidies. They wield very powerful political lobbies, the Ag-states are always the first to vote in elections and that early vote can be turned into significant political leverage.
The total impact on the economy is many 10's of billions of dollars for almost no discernible benefit.

Biofuels have a very low energy conversion efficiency, roughly around 0.5% of the solar energy is converted to extractable energy sources. We use an enormous amount of energy, to fulfill even a part of that with biofuels requires vast land areas and also enormous amounts of fresh water, which we do not have.

In addition to get high productivity out of the land requires intensive tilling, which causes top soil loss. This is a finite resource, losing 1 inch of topsoil every 5-10 years when it takes 500 years to replace that is not sustainable. We would be sacrificing our future food growing farmland to make biofuels now.

If biofuels are to fill a significant fraction of our energy needs it seems the only scalable and workable direction lies in seawater based algae approaches. Agriculturally farmed biofuels just don't add up in so many ways.

RE: This statistic is really disturbing
By dgingerich on 12/31/2011 3:53:09 PM , Rating: 1
1. I don't believe your "would require 6 times the total agricultural land area available in the US" part. That's totally nonsense.

2. The US Navy seems to be doing so well with Algal fuels at $27 a gallon. I sure don't want to pay that for my car fuel. It's just not feasible right now.

3. do you have a reasonable suggestion, something that preferable costs less than $10 a gallon? The only things we have for this are regular gasoline and corn based ethanol.

4. Greenpeace and The Sierra Club each spend more than twice the money on lobbyists what Conagra and Midlands spend combined. They aren't so powerful. Sure, they get huge subsidies, but they don't spend that much to affect the politics.

When technology catches up, there will be other choices, and they will get there. The market, what people buy and demand, will tell what we use for fuel. When alternatives are available, they will be used, and produced at the rate the market demands. (BTW, suppliers currently have a huge surplus of corn based ethanol because people aren't buying near as much as most people think. It will eventually fail in the market to a better alternative, but not today.)

By Cerin218 on 1/1/2012 10:22:25 AM , Rating: 2
If you understand how business and economy functions, you will realize that business does things for profit. If there isn't a profit, no point. With ethanol, the Fed is paying 6 BILLION dollars a year. If they didn't pay, this wouldn't be done because business has already realized that ethanol is a loss. The environment doesn't win either because ethanol is barely break even on it's environmental impact, most cases it's actually worse then gas. There is NO energy source that has the energy potential, cost, or portability of gas. Period. All of you alt energy people need to realize, that alt energy works great in small things, but is too cost prohibitive large scale. Yes it's fun to experiment, but that's all you are doing is playing around. The business sector has already realized that there isn't a profit in alt energy. You already said that the market and demand will choose. It already has, ethanol is a failure. if it weren't for the 6 billion they get, it would be dead and buried already. When the market wants it, and can sustain it, then we will see alt fuels. Ask Solyndra about alt energy. Alt energy should be explored, but not mandated like the government is doing. You can't artificially create demand for an inferior product.

RE: This statistic is really disturbing
By Solandri on 1/2/2012 1:11:11 AM , Rating: 3
1. I don't believe your "would require 6 times the total agricultural land area available in the US" part. That's totally nonsense.

From the chart in the above article, the U.S. produced about 12 billion gallons of corn ethanol last year.

Close to 40% of the corn produced in the U.S. goes to ethanol.

Corn fields represent about 25% of U.S. agricultural land.

U.S. gasoline demand is about 9 million barrels/day = 138 billion gallons/yr.

Ethanol has about 2/3rds the energy per gallon as gasoline, so replacing 138 billion gallons of gasoline would require 207 billion gallons of ethanol. That would mean increasing current corn ethanol production by 17.25x.

17.25 * 40% of current corn production = 690% of current corn production. That means 6.9x as much land as we use to grow corn today would be needed to produce enough corn ethanol to replace gasoline.

6.9 * 25% = 1.73x all agricultural land would have to be converted into corn ethanol in order to meet the country's gasoline demand with corn ethanol.

I am all for biofuels (it's more practical than PV solar IMHO). But corn ethanol ain't it. Corn ethanol began because the U.S. produces an oversupply of corn. The government doesn't want there to be starvation and food riots if there's a crop failure like in the 1930s. So they deliberately encourage farmers to overproduce via subsidies and price fixing.

Due to the overproduction, there's always lots of corn left over every year. We ship a lot of it overseas as foreign aid. Some government heads were thinking of what else we could do with all that excess corn, and someone said why don't we turn it into ethanol? It's a great idea as long as it's limited to excess corn which would just rot in silos before being disposed. The moment you start producing corn for the explicit purpose of turning it into ethanol, the economics all fall apart. The excess corn has zero opportunity cost - it's free because it'd otherwise be thrown away. But growing corn for ethanol has not just the cost of the corn, but the opportunity cost of not growing other food crops.

Unfortunately, several corn-producing states and company lobbyists got a hold of this. Under the pretense of helping wean us off foreign oil, they've turned this into exactly what it wasn't supposed to be - subsidies for producing corn for the explicit purpose of making ethanol.

By tastyratz on 1/4/2012 9:00:01 AM , Rating: 2
someone who backs up with facts and sources, I think I like you.
If only I could give this post a 7. Sadly environmentalists seem to not be bothered by silly things like facts/math/statistics (unless in their favor)

I hope you don't mind but I am going to share this, good work!

RE: This statistic is really disturbing
By inperfectdarkness on 12/31/2011 8:26:01 PM , Rating: 2
can i use soylent green in my car? there seems to be an endless supply of it.

By Homeboyjones on 1/1/2012 11:46:48 PM , Rating: 2
A brighter future using human waste!

RE: This statistic is really disturbing
By hackztor on 12/30/2011 4:03:22 PM , Rating: 1
I got a 2011 car and it says in manual use of E85 violates warranty. It will be hard to convince people to use without warranties.

RE: This statistic is really disturbing
By Shig on 12/30/11, Rating: 0
By E85Prices on 12/31/2011 10:44:57 AM , Rating: 2
Umm ..yeah your Car is NOT a flex fuel vehicle..of course they wont warranty if you are filling up with E85..same as tey wont warranty if you are trying to run diesel in it

By Homeboyjones on 1/1/2012 11:51:28 PM , Rating: 2
I am a mechanic. I service police vehicles. I would never put corn gas in any gasoline operated anything!

By E85Prices on 12/31/2011 10:43:14 AM , Rating: 3
Actually the DOE's site is not up-to-date..we ( have over 6,000 members reporting E85 Prices as well as new stations ..

there are .. 2868 Total E85 Stations in the United States | 1962 Total Cities selling E85 in the United States | 249 Blender Pumps E10 , E20, E30, E40 E50 and E85 in the US

As always
By Motoman on 12/30/2011 3:53:52 PM , Rating: 3
Fuel from food, in any form, is in all cases a catastrophic act of morony. Everyone loses in that race.

RE: As always
By Targon on 12/31/2011 11:05:21 PM , Rating: 2
Much of this really depends on your perspective. Some would say that feeding the starving people of Ethiopia is an act of stupidity, considering how much money has been pumped into that, and there has been virtually no improvement over the past six decades.

The idea of converting from food to fuel IS stupid, but too many people look at the idea of "feeding the starving people of the world" as their reason for saying it.

The real problem is when E10, E15, or E85 provides ZERO benefits to the consumer, yet it gets forced down our throats. I lose fuel economy due to 10 percent of my gasoline being Ethanol, and it does not provide a benefit to the environment on top of that. Now, if there were real benefits, such as lower prices at the pump, then yea, people would go for that, but there is NO benefit at this point.

The EPA needs to get a clue, and encourage things that actually benefit the environment. How about a crusade against Diesel that has a high Sulfur Dioxide content, since that is far more toxic than Carbon Dioxide.

I'm Pissed
By btc909 on 1/1/2012 5:23:32 AM , Rating: 2
I don't have land to get onto this BioFuel goverment subsidized financial gravy train. I can't imagine why in a few decades riots break out in the US over food prices & food shortages. But wait I have an answer, import food from China. Problem solved. I better load up on some more SeaFoam, when my cars run like crap in the morning, have jumpy throttle response, and the gas mileage tanks the throttle body is plugged up with these wonderful Ethanol deposits again.

RE: I'm Pissed
By FITCamaro on 1/1/2012 2:37:30 PM , Rating: 2
Seafoam is definitely a great product.

By E85Prices on 12/31/2011 10:40:29 AM , Rating: 3
No NO NO.. Come on Guys is it really that difficult to deal with Facts?

in 2011 14 BILLION Gallons of Corn Ethanol was Produced . .(just google it)

By Law ..the Renewable Fuel Standards..corn cannot contribute more than 15 billion gallons a corn has 1 billion of market left and that is it.

The 11 Billion and 12 Billion those are only TARGETS by year in the RFS that the Gov wants at least that much produce.. that is a minimum..not a maximun.

Corn ethanol production has already exceed the requirements for 2011, 2012, 2013 and almost the 14.4 required by 2014.

Also 99.5% of all that corn ethanol isn't even being used as an alternative fuel..99.5% goes straight to being blended as additive (also 1 BILLION gallons of ethanol was exported this year)

I am an advocate for ethanol to be used as an alternative fuel (where you as the consumer pull up to the pump and decide..Oil or ethanol) ..not as a mandated additive like E10.

A fine example
By YashBudini on 1/1/2012 12:12:04 PM , Rating: 3
Of how corporate lobbyists affect the government process solely for their own ends.

What ever happened to "We The People....?"

odd math in chart
By casteve on 12/31/2011 9:36:11 AM , Rating: 2
What is the "Total Renewal Fuel" line in the chart totaling? It's not the sum of the stuff above it....

Not Just Food
By FRANKOK1 on 12/31/2011 2:20:09 PM , Rating: 2
Article states:
"Cellulosic ethanol startup companies like Coskata seemed promising, but difficulty in establishing a solid food-chain to deliver biomass stock and.... "

Misleading - not just food-chain but anything that can be transported by train or truck and burned Ala wood, garbage, tires with plasma torches used by CoskataDOTcom by Alter NRG who acquired a spinoff from Westinghouse:
wwwDOTalternrgDOTcom/plasma_technology/our_techno logy

Why aren't all Navy ships powered by nuclear?
By quiksilvr on 12/30/11, Rating: -1
RE: Why aren't all Navy ships powered by nuclear?
By SunLord on 12/30/2011 3:04:34 PM , Rating: 4
Uh all Navy carriers are nuclear powered and I'm not sure if all carriers still have nukes on board I know they were removed in the 90s but there was talk after 9/11 of rearming them but I don't remember if they ever did. The navy is made up of a lot more then carriers and none of those ships are powered by nuclear reactors outside of the subs.

Most of the ships are to small and "cheap" to make with the added cost of building them with reactors viable. We did have some nuclear power cruisers from the 70s to the 90s but they were all decommissioned under Bill Clinton after a very short life time the oldest Virgina class cruiser was just 19years old when it was scrapped.

By SunLord on 12/30/2011 3:10:11 PM , Rating: 2
They were designed with a 50year life span in mind and the oldest Nuclear powered cruiser when scrapped was just 34years old and the newest was 15.3years old.

RE: Why aren't all Navy ships powered by nuclear?
By V-Money on 12/30/2011 10:13:12 PM , Rating: 2
Quite a few ships are capable of carrying nuclear missiles. Not all nuclear weapons are the big ones that destroy nations, for instance there are nuclear tipped tomahawks available for pretty much any vessel that can carry a tomahawk. Whether they do or not is a different story.

With that said, I don't get your next statement, having nuclear weapons on board and being powered by nuclear power are 2 completely different things. Then again it doesn't matter since all carriers (and subs) are nuclear powered anyways (the John Kennedy was the last conventional powered carrier, and it was decommissioned in '07, although it was originally designed to be a nuclear carrier).

By twhittet on 1/1/2012 6:04:34 PM , Rating: 2
The only thing I can think of, is the extra security protocols that may be needed when dealing with nuclear of any kind. Otherwise, I also have no idea what he was talking about.

"The Space Elevator will be built about 50 years after everyone stops laughing" -- Sir Arthur C. Clarke

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