EPA Deems Sugarcane Ethanol an Advanced Biofuel

Yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency confirmed in its expanded rules of implementation for the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), that ethanol made from sugarcane is considered an advanced biofuel that lowers greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by more than 50 percent. Specifically, EPA’s calculations show that sugarcane ethanol from Brazil reduces GHG emissions compared to gasoline by 61%, using a 30-year payback for indirect land use change (ILUC) emissions.

“The EPA’s decision underscores the many environmental benefits of sugarcane ethanol and reaffirms how this low carbon, advanced renewable fuel can help the world mitigate against climate change while diversifying America’s energy resources,” said Joel Velasco, Chief Representative in Washington for the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association (UNICA).

Brazil is the second largest ethanol producer in the world, behind the U.S., and the largest producer of ethanol made from sugarcane. Sugarcane ethanol, when compared to most types of ethanol produced today, yields less CO2 and can be less expensive for drives to purchase at the pump, this according to UNICA. The organization also says that “many observers point to sugarcane ethanol as a good option for diversifying U.S. energy supplies, increasing healthy competition among biofuel manufacturers and improving America’s energy security.”

A recent study in the November 2009 edition of the journal Energy Policy indicated that since 1975, over 600 million tons of CO2 emissions have been avoided thanks to the use of ethanol in Brazil.

“We are pleased that EPA took the time to improve the regulations, particularly by more accurately quantifying the full lifecycle greenhouse emission reductions of biofuels. EPA’s reaffirmation of sugarcane ethanol’s superior GHG reduction confirms that sustainably-produced biofuels can play a important role in climate mitigation. Perhaps this recognition will sway those who have sought to raise trade barriers against clean energy here in the U.S. and around the world. Sugarcane ethanol is a first generation biofuel with third generation performance,” said Velasco.

UNICA concluded by congratulating the administration for its “transparency and scientific integrity in the environmental rulemaking,” and encouraged other governments around the world to “take note of the manner that EPA has handled this process.”

9 thoughts on “EPA Deems Sugarcane Ethanol an Advanced Biofuel

  1. Comparing sugarcane against corn is not comparing apples to apples. They’re two different entities:

    First of all, sugarcane is planted and harvested BY HAND. That’s why the energy input and the footprint are lower. The average sugar cane cutter in Brazil drops dead at the age of 46. It’s excruciating work and long hours. They also live in servitude, in company camps, where they go into debt, because food and supplies are 2-3 times higher than the going rate. Cane cutters make next to nothing. They’re exploited.

    Brazilian sugarcane is going to be harvested by tractors that burn diesel fuel. So as Brazilian sugarcane harvesting becomes mechanized, the environmental footprint of their ethanol will be downgraded, and that will also reduce the energy return.

    Sugarcane is a good feedstock for ethanol, but it does Not provide the high protein distillers grains that we use as a booster to feed livestock. By-product distillers grains represent about a third of each corn kernel used for ethanol. Distillers grains provide a high quality feed supplement that increases milk production by 10%, increases meat production by 10-15%, and accelerates growth. This saves energy and increases profits.

    Numerous ethanol refineries are also adapting a new state-of-the-art GreenShift process to extract crude corn oil from corn ethanol leftovers. That is increasing fuel production by 7%.

    One crop of sugarcane in Brazil takes 16 to 18 months to mature. And in that span of time, you can get two crops of corn plus a winter crop on the same amount of acreage. This has Not been properly factored into integrated land use.

    Corn also produces 4 to 6 tons per acre of biomass waste, that is just beginning to be exploited. In the U.S., we are beginning to take the corn cobs and half of the stover to make more ethanol. This makes about 100 gallons per ton, times 3 tons per acre, which yields another 300 gallons of ethanol per acre per year. The process of making more ethanol from cobs and stover biomass is being integrated into corn ethanol refineries. So the corn inputs will be spread across more co-products, and the refining synergies will spread across more co-products as well. This improves the carbon footprint of corn ethanol and the energy return. The inputs will be going to a combination of grain ethanol, plus distillers grains, plus crude corn oil, plus cellulosic ethanol – all from the same crop. Sugarcane does not do all this.

    In Brazil, after the sugary juice is squeezed out of the cane, what’s left is baggase fiber. That is burned to provide production power for the plant. This enhances the energy return, however when bagasse is burned for power, typically without using any scrubbing of the exhaust, in Brazil, you get dark black smoke billowing from sugarcane plants – causing black carbon soot air pollution.

    Also the smaller, immature cane is not harvested. Instead, it’s left in the field and Burned. That causes more black carbon soot air pollution.

    When Brazilian ethanol is exported, it must be trucked hundreds of miles to the dock, using diesel fuel, then loaded onboard, and then shipped thousands of miles burning dirty bunker fuel, the dirtiest petroleum based fuel of all – more pollution in the form of sulfurous black carbon soot.

    When you weigh all the factors, including environmental factors, exported Brazilian is not superior to locally and regionally produced and consumed corn ethanol, with valuable co-products integrated into local economies. This is especially true for feeding distillers grains to adjacent livestock, exploiting adjacent livestock manure, and mitigating methane emissions and run-off, using integrated biogas digesters for refinery production power. This displaces natural gas to power corn ethanol refineries and produces local NPK rich bio-fertilizers from the digester residues. Next generation “integrated” corn ethanol refineries will involve exploiting the synergies of corn ethanol and livestock to make the most of all the valuable co-products and waste resources. They are going beyond sugarcane refineries.

    If you displace domestic corn ethanol, as California foolishly and illegally plans to do, and then import Brazilian ethanol in its place, you are out-sourcing American jobs to Brazil. Not only the jobs – but billions in farm subsidy offsets, multiple levels of tax revenue, and the huge economic stimulus that corn ethanol creates.

    Furthermore, what is the point of trading one addiction to imported oil – for another addiction to imported ethanol?

    As long as the U.S. has a Trade Deficit, Americans borrow money from the privately owned Federal Reserve, to buy imported oil and imported ethanol. These debt instruments are added to the National Debt every year – to buy foreign oil and fuel. We are practicing debt consumption. So add perpetual floating interest to the cost of consuming foreign ethanol, instead of domestic ethanol. That’s another reason why 2/3 of Americans support biofuels produced on U.S. soil.

    Velasco is misinformed about the quality of EPA rulemaking. It’s Not totally “transparent”. It’s somewhat deceptive. And it’s Not totally based on “scientific integrity”. Corruptly peer reviewed indirect land use change is based on unproven conjectures and junk science – not hard facts on the ground.

    It was highly inappropriate for the President of Brazil to blame the American biofuel industry for indirect land use change that never happened. What’s causing deforestation in Brazil is the illegal cutting of big timber, dubious land titles, clearing for cattle ranching, and subsistence farming, not biofuels.

    After reducing its own percentage of sugarcane ethanol blended with gasoline, from 25% down to 20%, due to a poor 2009 cane crop, it’s obvious that Brazil can not provide a reliable source of foreign ethanol, even if we wanted it.

  2. Every once in a while we run into a harangue from someone who clearly relies on a lack of specific knowledge about what goes on far from America, in places, for example, like Brazil, to deliver faulty, one-sided, incomplete and outdated information. Mr. Kwolek’s lengthy submission is a good example of all of the above. Most of it relies on simplistic, unfounded alegations, which are often used to discredit the proven ethanol production methods that have made Brazil energy independent. These are not new procedures – the U.S. is the amateur when it comes to ethanol, and Brazil is the seasoned pro, having done it for 35 years running. The EPA went to great lengths to be absolutely certain of what it said to Americans about the various types of ethanol, and what it has done is endorse Brazilian sugarcane ethanol unequivocally. In fact, when further investigation of numbers and evidence happens, the EPA’s assessment of cane ethanol wil be even better. Simple examples that apparently escaped Mr. Kwolek’s spewing, all of them available to anyone interested in facts and able to do a bit of research: more than half of Brazil’s cane harvest is now mechanized, and the industry is progressing quickly on that front – the concern now is with retraining programs, to ensure that former cutters get jobs in the future. Full mechanization is expected by the middle of the next decade. And the use of diesel mentioned by Mr. Kwolek is already factored into the analysis made by the EPA – that’s why it’s called a lifecycle analysis, which considers when the process emits and when it cuts CO2 to arrive at a final result. So are the emissions generated by transporting Brazilian ethanol to other parts of the world. Instead of turning this into a corn x cane or Brazil x US issue, Mr. Kwolek and others who would rather pursue conflict and turn this into a silly and pointless competition, would contribute far more if they recognized the numerous areas in which both countries, as the world’s top ethanol producers (together they account for close to 80% of all the ethanol produced globally), stand to gain tremendously. A more constructive approach is in order, and the EPA is to be congratulated for showing the world what working with hard facts and being impartial is all about.

  3. you have a lot of facts wrong. manual labor accounts for about 1/2 of sugar cane harvest and workers are paid going rates for labor in the region. it is low because rural workers do not get paid well, but that is brazil. they do in some cases exploit them but in many cases don’t. the bigger political problem brazil has is that by 2015-17 there will be very little manual harvest as all new cane production will use mechanical harvesting. according to US EPA and CARB calculations you get a significant increase in carbon benefits from cane harvesting with mechanical systems because you no longer have to burn cane before harvest which is the main source of Co2 emissions. in all cases when cane harvesting is totally mechanical, burning of fields will be prohibited. this is already happening in sao paulo state where this harvesting is prevalent. when mechanical harvesting is used there is no burning and you can theoretically bring all of the biomass into the plant for conversion to energy and fuel

    you are correct, sugar cane and corn are apples and oranges. but you neglect to discuss the tonnage of sugar cane vs. corn. the yields of sugar cane per hectare on average are 73 tons per hectares of cane per year. this contrasts with a 20-30% of that number for corn, on which you only make ethanol with the corn. there is a good DDG by product and it is under valued in calculations and there is room for a lot of improvement in crediting this. and corn ethanol can get its act together to improve its carbon numbers with better yield varieties and better plant process efficiency, particularly if they have integrated ethanol and feedlot combinations and use wet mill processes. but corn ethanol is not very energy efficient and EPA was kind to give a 21% carbon designation. perhaps it will improve

    sugar cane options for improvement are much larger however. sugar cane is only used to make electricity in about half the plants. that improves carbon substantially. There is also the potential to make bio gasoline from bagasse which doubles the amount of biofuel from the same amount of cane. this easily improves carbon efficiency to over 100%.

    you also try and say dont buy ethanol because it is from a foreign country. it is difficult to discuss solving climate change problems globally if you have local solution only limitation. we are consuming mass quantities of imported oil that produce huge carbon emissions and we need to deal with that problem in any way possible that makes environmental sense. brazil has year round production and can get better carbon numbers as a result. this is not like oil. nobody is planning to go to war with Brazil and they are happy to export a product if they have it. it is true there was a deficit this year but that will lead to more investment and more ethanol and sugar in the future. trade is the answer to climate issues or you always claim that an answer wont work just because it cant be done in your country. climate change is a global problem and needs a global solution. as for our currency problems, they are much greater than the tiny displacement of imported petroleum with imported ethanol that has very little impact on the balance of trade.

    sincerely
    bill wason

  4. Aureon Kwolek needs to take a chill pill. Americans is not going to move away from oil by disparaging other alternative fuels that just happen not to be made in midwest. Maybe he/she should visit Brazil instead of rehashing old myths. For starters, see http://bit.ly/cHIRvj

    As Mr. Green points out above, all of your so-called facts are wrong. Even Obama recognizes some of them. http://bit.ly/aDdETX. Besides, how the heck are we going to get dependent on Brazilian ethanol if they produce only 7 billion gallons on a good year with less than 10% of that to export? According to EIA, the US consumes over 150 billion gallons of gasoline and about 12 billion of ethanol this year alone.

    The truth is that our country needs all the options we can get our hands on. I personally would rather import a little sugar ethanol than depend on wackos like Hugo Chavez. But if you disagree, just stop trashing those who are working on something other than oil. It is not disparaging the alternatives that this country is going to end its addiction to oil. See http://setamericafree.org/

  5. I’d like to congratulate Mike Green for doing an excellent job of “white washing” the issues we have with EPA methodology.

    The most blatant example of this is EPA’s corrupt peer review of indirect land use change theory – Allowing the author of the theory and his assistants, to peer review their own work. The majority of the peer reviewers were environmental activists and biofuel critics, with their political agenda steering EPA science. Most of the peer reviewers had a conflict of interest. This Invalidates EPA peer review on indirect land use change theory.

    Deceptive EPA peer review did Not fool Bob Dinneen, President of the Renewable Fuels Association, who issued this statement:

    “EPA has asked the foxes to guard the hen house on this issue. By adding lawyers and advocates to a scientific review panel, EPA bureaucrats have made a mockery of the Administration’s commitment to sound science. These reviews absolutely cannot be viewed as objective or unbiased. Many of these reviewers have repeatedly and openly demonstrated unabashed and politically-motivated biases against biofuels in the past, which immediately casts a long shadow of doubt over the legitimacy of EPA’s peer review process. This is a perversion of what the peer review process is supposed to achieve.”

    Mr. Green – Have you looked at the wolf-pack mentality of the biofuel critics who peer reviewed indirect land use change theory for the EPA? Explain to us why you think you know better than Bob Dinneen, one of the leading experts on this issue.

    As the controversy began to heat-up, Lisa Jackson issued a statement declaring that indirect land use change theory was subject to “Significant Uncertainties”. That’s because it’s based on false assumptions, programmed into superficial computer modeling, instead of hard facts on the ground. Yet shortly thereafter, Ms Jackson issued her final rules, with the controversial land theory still included. This is junk science. Not based on fact, as Mr. Green falsely claims.

    EPA satellite image analysis does Not prove that corn ethanol or soy biodiesel in the U.S. is responsible for land change in Brazil. Deforestation has been taking place in Brazil for over 100 years, mainly for timber, cattle grazing, and subsistence farming – Long before biofuels developed into a sizable industry.

    Mr. Green – Explain to us how American corn ethanol is displacing lands in Brazil, when last year’s corn crop was 3 million acres smaller than the previous year… You can’t. And neither can the EPA, except by using the unproven indirect land use change theory and pseudo science. You falsely claim that RFS-2 is entirely accurate and based on fact, when it’s not.

    In its earlier proposed rules, the EPA penalized both U.S. corn based ethanol and Brazilian cane-based ethanol with equal amounts of carbon emissions for land use change, on a 100 year basis. The EPA inexplicably changed this in their final rules to 30 years. They cut the indirect land use change penalty for corn ethanol in half, but they also cut the land use change penalty on Brazilian ethanol a whopping 93%.

    Mr. Green – In light of the smaller U.S. corn crop and the larger Brazilian sugarcane crop (part of which failed) – Explain to us why the EPA would then assign a 50% penalty to corn and only a 7% penalty to sugarcane.

    Mr. Green – Will you benefit from any technology transfer to Brazil? Are you receiving pay or benefits for your comments? Or will you benefit in any way from the sale, trade, investment, or development of Brazilian ethanol? If so – Where is your full disclosure?

  6. Mr. Kwolek – I find it pretty sad when folks have to resort to accusing anyone who disagrees with them of having hidden agendas or being paid to say what they say. That just means you know you’re defending the indefensible. I didn’t address indirect land use changes in my original posting, so not sure why you’re asking me all those questions as if I were in agreement. So for the record, I don’t believe anyone, including the EPA, has a handle on how to measure ILUC at this time. I think it’s fair to pursue a method everyone finds acceptable, and that search is likely to continue for quite some time. None of this takes away from the effort made by the EPA to arrive at some conclusion about different types of ethanol. And all things being equal, including the application of ILUC, you have a significant difference between cane and corn ethanol, with cane ethanol reducing greenhouse gases by 61% (according to EPA), while corn remains at 21%. Again, you seem to want this to became a big battle, while I think a constructive approach is the only way to go. There is no way America will become “dependent” on ethanol from Brazil, and the American ethanol industry will do itself a favor if it stops concentrating so exclusively on making sure it keeps its huge incentives and starts showing everyone that it is willing to compete in a level playing field, without massive subsidies and protectionism. If a major objective here is to fight global warming, then everyone needs to keep in mind that emissions don’t respect national boundaries.

  7. EPA Way Off on Petroleum Fuel vs Biofuel Comparison

    “I don’t believe anyone, including the EPA, has a handle on how to measure ILUC at this time.” (Mike Green)

    Good Comment – Finally something we can agree on. And my response is – So if they DON’T have a handle on the unproven theory, then why are they using it in their final rules?

    EPA rules should only be based on hard facts, not flimsy assumptions that can’t be scientifically proven.

    EPA’s faulty international indirect land use change analysis is the crux of the issue. American Corn and soybean acreage is not displacing any other lands, here or anywhere else. Both of these crops fluctuate from year to year, in a balance of supply and demand. But for decades, the number of acres planted are roughly the same. The yield per acre keeps going up, so there is no need to increase corn or soybean acreage. That would flood the market.

    Nevertheless, the EPA is hell-bent on falsely penalizing American corn and soy crops for causing deforestation in Brazil. To force this conjecture, the EPA falsely applies the unproven land use theory. In their preliminary rules, the EPA first claimed that American corn ethanol and Brazilian sugarcane ethanol both had the same indirect land use change impact. Then, several months later, in their final rules, we discovered that the EPA had cut the impact by 50% for corn ethanol, and they had cut the impact by 93% for Brazilian ethanol. So why were their numbers so far off in the first place?

    That ought to tell you something. They are uncertain about it – wildly uncertain. The EPA is simply throwing numbers around for land use change, in order to manipulate how biofuels compare with petroleum based fuels. And they still have it wrong.

    A new German study of potential land-use change from biofuel feedstock expansion in Brazil, claims just the OPPOSITE of what the EPA claims. The study, conducted at the University of Kassel, by David M. Lapola, is being published in “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences”. Lapola’s academic team noted – That Brazil has set 2020 goals for expanding cane-based ethanol and soy biodiesel production of their own. And this is the driving force influencing deforestation in Brazil. Therefore, the study concluded that ALL Brazilian deforestation was caused by Brazilian industry. Deforestation in Brazil caused by American crops: ZERO. Projected deforestation caused by Brazilian biofuel expansion in Brazil:

    “Sugarcane ethanol and soybean biodiesel would be responsible for 41% and 59% of this indirect deforestation, respectively.” This is the reverse of what the EPA falsely claims in their final rules.

    Ignore EPA’s bogus indirect land use change penalties on corn ethanol, and its carbon footprint is 61% better than gasoline.

    This does not take into consideration that Gasoline emits sulfurous black carbon soot and is laced with a multitude of carcinogens and neurotoxins, and chemical additives – that ethanol does Not have. Here’s what gasoline contains:

    Benzene – (aromatics) which can actually kill you, and causes leukemia, especially in children. This includes toluene, ethyl benzene, meta-xylene, para-xylene, ortho-xylene ethyltoluene, trimethylbenzene. (2) Toxic olefins. (3) Dibromoethane (EDB). (4) N-Nitrosodiethylamine. (5) Ethylene dibromide. (6) Ethylene dichloride. (7) Toxic n-paraffins. (8) Toxic iso-paraffins: methylbutanes, methylpentanes, methylhexanes, dimethylpentanes, trimethylbutanes, trimethylpentanes. (9) Cycloparaffins: cyclopentane, methylcyclopentane, cyclohexane, methylcyclohexane. (10) Toxic metal deactivators, deposit modifiers, gum inhibitors, freezing point depressants, corrosion inhibitors, and dyes…and the list goes on.

    So EPA’s overall comparison between gasoline and ethanol, and between diesel and biodiesel, being based exclusively on carbon dioxide, is only a skeleton of what it should be. In their comparison of petroleum based fuels vs biofuels, the EPA omitted perhaps the most important pollutant effecting climate change: Sulfurous Black Carbon Soot. New studies show that Black Carbon Soot may play a much bigger role in climate change than previously thought, perhaps even bigger than CO2. Biofuels are far cleaner in this respect.

    With its faster flame speed and 30% higher octane, adding ethanol to gasoline, as an oxygenator, actually accelerates the burn. To an extent, ethanol Mitigates the unburned residues of these gasoline pollutants. Otherwise, you would be breathing them. That should be a credit added to the ethanol footprint.

    The EPA is also distorting the carbon score of petroleum based fuels, by using an old, outdated baseline for crude oil extraction – based on the typical American oil well. The EPA crude oil baseline does Not factor-in the more recent American consumption of “energy and pollution intensive” Canadian Tar Sands, which are also responsible for millions of acres of deforestation. Instead, EPA falsely blames biofuels for deforestation that didn’t happen. The EPA also does Not accurately account for foreign oil shipped thousands of miles burning dirty bunker fuel, and for energy intensive deep offshore wells.

    The EPA also fails to factor-in the environmental damage and the amount of crude oil consumed to protect the U.S. foreign oil supply. According to a 2009 Rand Report, 15% of the entire U.S. defense budget, $50 to $100 billion a year, is spent to protect foreign oil fields, pipelines, oil facilities, and shipping lanes, etc. That represents a Huge amount of pollution emitted by dirty diesel fuel, jet fuel, and bunker fuel consumed by the military. This is part of the American crude oil supply chain. The EPA omits this, because it would make petroleum based fuels, derived from foreign oil, look pitiful next to the more localized domestic biofuels.

    Over-all, what American Taxpayers are getting in the form of EPA craftsmanship is substandard – Not a fair and accurate comparison of petroleum based fuels vs biofuels. EPA numbers on international indirect land use change for American corn ethanol and soy biodiesel – are fabricated. And the political agenda of the EPA, with its obsession with CO2, is one of omission and diversion – Not transparency.

  8. Interesting points from all of you. Corn creates a lot of problems. It is more expensive to grow–especially in the U.S. where we insist on yellow corn instead of a more natural blue corn. It requires a lot more fertilizer; it often times requires a lot of irrigation–consider the importance of water in many of the corn growing states; and don’t forget the number of pesticides that we use to control various crop issues. However, I think you are all failing to address a major issue: Puerto Rico, Louisiana, and Hawaii are all sugar cane producers. More bluntly, there are a lot of places that grow sugar cane. For that matter, maybe we should be trying to lift restrictions on Cuban sugar (it has been fifty years plus–let it go). Since sugar cane easily produces more ethanol compared to corn in many ways, why aren’t we pushing this kind of production in the U.S. instead of relying on corn–an important food for humans and livestock?