EPA Lowers Cellulosic Ethanol Target

Cellulosic ethanol continues to be out of reach for commercial use, according to the latest Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS2) requirements set by the Environmental Protection Agency for 2012.

“EPA has essentially reduced the mandate for cellulosic, recognizing the fact that there aren’t supplies out there to meet it,” said USDA chief economist Joe Glauber.

Back in 2007, Congress set a goal of 500 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol to be produced in 2012, but only a very small fraction of that is now expected to come to fruition with a target of just 8.65 million gallons. “The big question that’s been out there for years is ‘when will cellulosic ethanol become profitable?’ said Glauber. “I don’t think anyone sees that coming anytime soon, although a few of these plants are expected to come on line in the coming year, so we’ll see.”

In order to project cellulosic biofuel production for 2012, EPA tracked the progress of over 100 biofuel production facilities, the methodology of which is clearly outlined in the official 97-page final rule document. Companies that EPA determined were likely to produce significant quantities of cellulosic biofuel in 2012 include (with projected ethanol-equivalent gallons):

KiOR – a Mississippi-based renewable crude oil project (4.8 million)
INEOS Bio of Vero Beach – waste to biofuel (3 million)
Fiberight – a waste-to-biofuel project in Blairstown, IA (2 million)
American Process, KL Energy and ZeaChem for a total of less than a million gallons combined.

EPA noted the importance of setting a cellulosic standard that was realistic, yet still encouraged investment in the technology. “Thus while any standard we set for cellulosic biofuel standard for 2012 will have some uncertainty in terms of actual attainment, our intention is to balance such uncertainty with the objective of promoting growth in the industry.”

EPA has set the “advanced biofuels” target for 2012 at 2 billion gallons, much of that being comprised of imported sugarcane ethanol from Brazil.

Read EPA’s full explanation of the RFS2 requirements justification.