The EPA, through its Renewable Fuel Standards program, has set a pretty idealistic goal for the introduction of cellulosic biofuels, and many are wondering if the goal will be able to be met.
In its mandate, the EPA has ordered that 36 billion gallons of biofuel be blended into the fuel supply by 2022. That doesn’t seem like such an unrealistic goal, until you consider that as of this writing, there are no commercial-scale refineries in existence in the United States and no distribution network to move the fuel once it has been developed. With these two roadblocks, 2022 doesn’t seem so far distant.
Of the 36 billion gallons of biofuel, half must be cellulosic ethanol and no more than 15 billion can be corn ethanol, with the rest coming from other biofuel sources, such as residue from sugar production.
So how do we get there? We would need approximately 200 large scale facilities to meet the standards, each one capable of producing about 100 million gallons a year, but of the 13 biofuel projects that are being planned, only four of them are of a commercial scale.
BlueFire Ethanol, based in Irvine, Calif., produces fuel from lawn trimmings and other landfill waste products. Arnold Klann, co-founder and chief executive officer, says he could open dozens of commercial-scale plants from now until 2022 and produce only 5 billion gallons a year. His first plant, the recipient of $40 million in federal startup money, won’t open until late next year.
Sioux Falls, S.D.-based Poet LLC, says one of the solutions to meeting the cellulosic standard is building plants capable of producing both kinds of ethanol, with one of those plants opening this month on a 90-acre site in Marion County Ohio.
According to Mark Stowers, Poet’s vice president for research and development, the plant will be able to process about 30,000 bushels of corn an hour, producing about 65 million gallons of corn-based ethanol annually. The biorefinery can then add cellulosic material to the mix, upping the output.
“We can use the same farmers, the same fields, the same infrastructure to get cellulose to the plants, We don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” he added
With many countries lowering their ethanol standards in the face of rising global food prices and questions of environmental sustainability, it remains to be seen if the EPA will lower it’s 2022 mandate, or if we will even be able to meet it.
Photo courtesy of Plus45 via Creative Commons license.