DF Cast: Ethanol Battles for Info & Against the Gov’t

Understanding what the auto industry wants and needs… and how ethanol can meet that… all while battling Big Oil and even the government… that’s the daunting task the ethanol industry has been facing for some time.

ACE13-uniteandignite-vandergriendIn this edition of the Domestic Fuel Cast, we talk with Dave Vander Griend, the co-founder and president of one of the world’s largest ethanol plant engineering and construction firms, ICM. He talks about how first the ethanol industry needed to identify what the auto industry needed and then what the refineries were producing, a first on both counts for the ethanol industry. He says once his industry was able to see what the car makers wanted, it was easier to figure out how to counter some of the arguments Big Oil has been making against ethanol.

Meanwhile, the Urban Air Initiative, a group that looks to reduce the threat to public health posed by petroleum-based fuels, issued a white paper, dispelling Big Oil’s myths and countering what the group characterizes as an erroneous report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that would hurt ethanol.

It’s a fascinating conversation, and you can hear more of it in this Domestic Fuel Cast: Domestic Fuel Cast - Dave Vander Griend, ICM and Urban Air Initiative

You can also subscribe to the DomesticFuel Cast here.

Climate Hearing Sparks Frenzied Debate

This week the Energy and Power subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee heard testimony from Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy about the President’s climate plan. This past June, President Obama unveiled his new action plan for climate change. Many of the opponents of the plan are criticizing the proposed regulations from EPA for new and existing power plants, which they argue will increase costs for consumers and send jobs overseas but haven’t put forth alternative solutions.

Mark Reynolds, executive director of Citizens Climate Lobby said the time dedicated to the hearing would be better spend talking about effective alternatives to Obama’s plan. “We April in DCunderstand that conservatives object to the use of EPA regulations to curb greenhouse gases,” he said. “If that’s the case, and given the rapidly closing window for action on climate change, they should be talking about a market-based alternative, such as a revenue-neutral carbon tax.”

Citizens Climate Lobby proposes a steadily-rising carbon tax and returning proceeds to the public to offset increased energy costs. A number of conservatives have expressed support for this approach and Reynolds said they should be called to testify at the next hearing.

“I’m grateful that Chairman Ed Whitfield convened today’s hearing, and I hope there are more to come in the near future,” continued Reynolds. “Having held a hearing to critique the President’s plan, the next hearing should focus on solutions.”

Among them, Art Laffer, former Reagan economic adviser said, “Reduce taxes on something we want more of–income–and tax something we arguably want less of–carbon pollution. It’s a win-win.”

While Greg Mankiw, economic advisor to George W. Bush and Mitt Romney commented, “A proposed carbon fee — or carbon tax, if you prefer — is more effective and less invasive than the regulatory approach that the federal government has traditionally pursued.”

Reynolds concluded, “It’s easy to sit and complain that the President is trying to circumvent Congress. Congress, however, has failed to protect our nation from the risk of climate change. It’s time to stop complaining and take action.”

Paper Challenges EPA Modeling of Ethanol Emissions

A new white paper released by the Ethanol Across America Campaign finds that mid-Level ethanol blends can provide significantly greater emission and health benefits than U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) models indicate. “Understanding the Emissions Benefits of Higher Ethanol Blends: EPA Modeling Fails to Tell the Whole Story,” was authored by Steve Vander Griend of the Urban Air Initiative and released during the 26th Annual Ethanol Conference.

Tier 3 Emissions paper“Adding ethanol to gasoline improves it in every way. It lowers carbon, reduces common air pollutants for smog formation, lessens CO2 emissions, reduces sulfer content, and provides clean octane as a replacement for toxic aromatics. In short, it makes gasoline significantly better than what would otherwise go into your tank. EPA’s modeling does not show that to be the case, but it should.” This begins the white paper debunking the research that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) commissioned to show that gasoline blended with E30 (30% ethanol, 70% gasoline) is dirtier than gasoline not blended with ethanol.

Vander Griend writes that ethanol’s chemical property has a beneficial distillation point that makes it almost impossible for it to cause the kinds of increases EPA claims. In fact, he argues, it is the highly toxic aromatics added to gasoline in the EPA testing procedures that cause significant increases in criteria emissions. He makes the case that ethanol is a superior blending agent that can replace toxic components of gasoline used for octane. Ethanol provides clean octane that, when properly blended, would create value for blends well beyond 10 percent volume.

The EPA findings relate to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and a specific model developed by the EPA required in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

Click here to read the whitepaper. Visit the ACE 26th Annual Ethanol Conference photo album.

Caltech Announces New Energy Awards

The Resnick Sustainability Institute at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) has established an award, called RESONATE, that will honor cutting-edge work that addresses some of the hardest resonate2014problems in energy and sustainability. The award winners will be announced in the Spring of 2014. The RESONATE Awards will focus on innovative, paradigm-shifting work from individuals at an early stage in their careers, whose ideas are worthy of significant, widespread recognition. This work can be from many fields including science, technology, economics, public policy, or others.

The intent of the awards is to draw attention to the innovators making significant strides in some of the grand challenges facing humanity, within the context of achieving global sustainability. These include meeting the world’s energy needs sustainably, providing water and food for a growing world population, cleaning the environment, improving people’s access to the natural resources they need to live a productive life, and others.

“The big issues in sustainability demand a perspective that is creative, global, and untethered by prior conventional wisdom,” said Dr. Harry Atwater, Director of the Resnick Sustainability Institute, and Howard Hughes Professor and Professor of Applied Physics and Materials Science Caltech. “These awards have been created to encourage and honor people who are rethinking solutions to conquer these challenges.”

The RESONATE judging panel will be comprised of a team of individuals appointed by Resnick Sustainability Institute leadership. Judges will be selected based on their track records of outstanding achievement in academia, industry, government, journalism, and society.

20 Climate Change Steps for DOE

Peer-Reviewed-Articles-Dr-James-L-Powell-756-by-506The Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change recently released a white paper recommending 20 steps the Department of Energy (DOE) should take in carrying out the President’s Climate Action Plan. The recommendations include strengthening specific energy efficiency standards, accelerating the development and deployment of low-carbon energy technologies, expanding the use of energy savings performance contracts to save energy at federal facilities, encouraging reforms in state building codes and utility rate structures, maximizing the contribution of power marketing administrations, and analyzing the climate change impacts of liquefied natural gas exports.

“This report provides a roadmap for the Department of Energy as it implements President Obama’s climate change plan,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. “The steps we outline would accelerate the development of clean, renewable energy; improve energy efficiency; and reduce dangerous carbon pollution. I look forward to working with Secretary Moniz as DOE ramps up its work to address this serious threat.”

The report is based on feedback by more than 200 groups ranging from efficiency advocates to Fortune 500 companies to environmental organizations to electric utilities. In addition, DOE officials and academics also provided input.

Keeping in mind the “financial” crisis of the federal government, page 11 of the report notes that while Congress seems unlikely to act to support additional loan guarantees, DOE currently has $2.3 billion for energy efficiency and renewable energy loan guarantees as well as $4 billion in loan guarantee authority that it can use for projects of any type.

“Congress should act to support additional loan guarantees, but there is little
prospect that Congress will do so in the near term . . . “We recommend that DOE support innovative energy efficiency and renewable energy projects to the full extent of DOE’s remaining authority. Providing loan guarantees for worthy projects of these types would be a concrete step towards reaching the President’s goal of once again doubling renewable electricity generation from wind, solar, and geothermal resources by 2020.”

Are Electric Cars Really Green?

IMAGITRENDSAccording to two recent articles published in IEEE Spectrum, electric vehicles (EVs) may not be so “green”. The first report, Unclean at Any Speed, describes how the subsidies for electric cars may cause more harm than good after considering full electric vehicle lifecycles. It advocates directing EV subsidies toward initiatives such as emissions testing, bicycle infrastructure, public transit and land-use changes.

The second article, coined by Ozzie Zehner, is a response to electric car proponents published in the same journal, and describes how the high cost of electric cars and solar cells exposes the substantial amount of fossil fuels that their manufacturing employs.

Zehner, is a visiting scholar at the University of California – Berkeley and the author of Green Illusions. He once built an electric hybrid car of his own, but is now more cautious about promoting costly high-tech strategies. “Stating that an electric car is clean is like saying that a light bulb is clean. Light bulbs don’t produce exhaust, but it doesn’t mean we IMAGITRENDScan use them with zero emissions. The same holds true for electric cars,” said Zehner in an NPR interview Monday.

In his article, Zehner identifies a price tag predicament. “The cost of manufactured goods ultimately boils down to two things: natural resource extraction, and profit,” explains Zehner. “Extraction is largely based on fossil-fuel inputs. Generally speaking, if a supposedly green machine costs more than its conventional rival, then more resources had to be claimed to make it possible.”

He indicates that pricey green technologies, including solar cells and electric cars, likely require more fossil fuel and produce more carbon dioxide than their conventional counterparts. Zehner warns that even if electric car costs come down, “we will have invested billions of dollars to maintain an otherwise unsustainable transportation infrastructure.”

Zehner remarks that researchers could instead “measure the virtues of electric cars against those of walkable neighborhoods, and the costs of generating more energy against the savings from using less.” He admits these may not seem comparable at first but that “in a world of 7 billion people living in increasingly precarious times, these are the tough questions that matter.”

The Real Reason Government’s Plug EV’s

According to a new study by researchers at the Indiana University Bloomington School of Public and Environmental Affairs and the University of Kansas, contrary to common belief, many country’s promote the manufacture and sale of electric vehicles (EVs) for reasons of economic development, notably job creation, not because of their environmental benefits. 4798The study looked at policies related to EVs in California, China, the European Union (EU), France, Germany and the United States, political jurisdictions with significant automotive industries and markets for EVs.

“Billions of dollars are being invested despite doubts that some express about the viability of electricity as a propulsion system,” said John D. Graham, SPEA dean and co-author of the study. “The objective of many of these national and sub-national governments is to establish a significant position — or even dominance — in the global marketplace for these emerging, innovative new technologies.”

Examining each jurisdiction’s use of risk-management policies (e.g., those designed to reduce environmental and security risks due to oil dependence) or industrial policies (e.g., designed to boost fortunes of a specific technology or sector and increase market competitiveness) indicated the entire lifecycle of making and using EVs is viewed by policy makers mainly as an economic development opportunity. Specific findings include:

  • China: No carbon price has been established in China, where electricity is generated by high-carbon sources and fuel prices are relatively low; thus, its EV policies are geared toward establishing a competitive position in an emerging global EV industry.
  • Germany: The least committed to EVs of the jurisdictions studied, Germany is nonetheless engaging in an industrial policy of hedging to protect the market share and viability of its premium car industry should electric propulsion gain a foothold in the worldwide premium car market.
  • The European Union: The only entity studied that acts as a supranational regulatory state, the EU is also the only one where pure risk management related to EVs occurs. The EU appears to have a technology-neutral approach and has made some investments in research and development support for industry innovation.
  • California and France: California is the largest market for motor vehicles in North America. In addition, its considerable pollution problems, created largely from the automobiles in the 1960s and ’70s and particularly acute relative to other U.S. locations, make it an ideal market for EVs. Thus, it is motivated to promote EVs by a substantial blend of industrial policy and risk management — the same approach taken by France. Both California and France have made significant advancements in risk management policies, having the strongest voices among their peers for mitigating the effects of economic and industrial development that lead to urban air pollution, congestion and climate change. Continue reading

Vital Signs: Volume 20 Released

The Worldwatch Institute has released Vital Signs: Volume 20, the latest compilation from the Vital Signs project. The report finds that in 2012, global oil consumption reached an all-time high and physical water scarcity affected nearly 1.2 billion people. The Vital Signs report provides insight on many of the most critical global concern and provides data and analysis on significant global trends such as fossil fuel subsidies, agricultural commodities and rapid urbanization in the developing world.

Worldwatch Institute Logo,jpg“Our recent economic systems and theories are programmed to squeeze ever more resources from a planet in distress,” said Michael Renner, Worldwatch senior researcher and director of the Vital Signs project. “A mixture of population growth, consumerism, greed and short-term thinking by policymakers and business people seems to be inexorably driving human civilization toward a showdown with the planet’s limits.”

Some of the trends are positive. For example, within the agriculture sector, efficient irrigation methods have increased more than sixfold over the last two decades. In addition, socially sustainable ways of doing business continue to emerge.

“There is no shortage of alternatives to change the destructive trajectory that humanity finds itself on,” continued Renner. “Renewables and efficient irrigation are two practical options among many others. But we need to get serious about these tasks instead of consigning them largely to the margins.”

Ethanol Groups Comment on RFS Path Forward

Both the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) and Growth Energy submitted comments to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this week on pathways forward for the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The comments highlight the importance of next generation biofuels and how increased market access will play a critical role in the ultimate success of the RFS.

RFA-logo-13Both organizations voiced support for the addition of cellulosic fiber from the corn kernel to the list of qualifying feedstocks, and the agency’s simplified approach to RIN generation for renewable fuels derived from cellulosic biomass.

“We applaud EPA for confirming that corn kernel fiber is ‘crop residue,’ and believe the Agency has proposed a sensible and straightforward approach to RIN generation for renewable fuels derived from cellulosic biomass feedstocks,” wrote RFA President and CEO Bob Dinneen. “Several technologies to convert corn kernel fiber into cellulosic ethanol have been developed in recent years, and a number of existing ethanol plants have already adopted these technologies or are poised to integrate them in the near future. The volumes of cellulosic ethanol produced from corn kernel fiber can meaningfully contribute to RFS2 cellulosic biofuel requirements in the near term.” The comments also included a scientific analysis from a noted animal nutritionist examining the potential impacts of reduced fiber DDGS on livestock and poultry markets.

RFA’s comments expressed support for most of the RFS2 technical amendments and new pathways proposed by EPA. However, Dinneen noted, the conditions for applying the alternative RVP (Reid Vapor Pressure) approach should be limited to whether blending an approved gasoline additive with E10 results in no net increase in RVP.

Growth_Energy_logo-1“The RFS has been the country’s most successful energy policy over the last forty years. Since the inception of the RFS, Growth Energy’s members and the ethanol industry have produced significant volumes of renewable fuel that have displaced 10 percent of U.S. transportation fuel, which has substantially helped reduce our dangerous dependence on foreign oil, improve our air quality, create thousands of jobs and revitalize rural communities nationwide,” noted Tom Buis, Growth Energy CEO in his comments. “The industry has successfully built the foundation of the RFS with the first generation of grain-based ethanol production, and our members are poised to do the same in the next generation with advanced biofuels and cellulosic ethanol.”

Growth Energy also supports additional pathways to meet the goals of the RFS including the new pathway for cellulosic biofuel from corn kernel fiber, as well as additional crop residues. “We believe that any renewable biomass meeting the 60 percent greenhouse gas threshold should be able to generate cellulosic RINs.” Comments also addressed the issue of foreign ethanol producers, advocating that those who produce biofuels, generate RINs and importers of renewable fuel should be subject to U.S. jurisdiction to prevent fraud, and that E15 fuel should be treated the same as E10 fuel with regards to RVP.

Reactions to EPA Vehicle Emissions Proprosed Rule

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has asked for comments regarding its RFA-logo-13proposed rule on Tier 3 Motor Vehicle Emission and Fuel Standards and the industry responded in force. Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) noted that for the most part, the air toxics the EPA is reviewing pertain to refiners of gasoline and auto manufacturers, although there are a few areas of concern for ethanol producers.

ncga-logo-newThe National Corn Growers Association’s (NCGA) comments were based upon two main principles: first, the RFS volumes of biofuels in the future should be met in order to preserve the 150 million metric tons of annual CO2 equivalent emission reductions attributed to the RFS 2 program by EPA; and second that ethanol blends above E10 should be splash-blended to increase octane above the level of 87 AKI. Doing this would support EPA’s approach toward establishing E15 as the new certification fuel for 2017 and later non-flexible fueled light duty vehicles.

Along these same lines, the RFA supports treating E16-E50 blends as alternative fuels.

“EPA clearly recognizes that the most effective and efficient way to achieve the important goals of the proposed rule is to work to harmonize it with other policies affecting and regulating the transportation fuel sector throughout the country, including the RFS, Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards (CAFE), and California’s Low Emission BIOlogoVehicle Program,” writes Brent Erickson, executive vice president of BIO’s Industrial & Environmental Section in formal comments. “BIO supports the proposed rule and believes that the final Tier 3 rule has the potential to encourage the continued development and commercialization of all biofuels.”

Erickson, like other biofuel groups noted that the EPA should work to set the emissions of test fuel in a way that will maximize investment and adoption of all biofuels, including higher ethanol blends and drop-in fuels, while also maximizing the level of octane in the fuel supply.

Small Biz Gives Thumbs up for Climate Plan

There have been several polls conducted in the wake of President Obama’s new plan to fight climate change. This week, a poll focused on small business owners shows that ASBC logoregardless of party affiliation, they support safe, cleaner, more efficient and renewable energy. The poll was commissioned by the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) and asked a range of energy and environment questions.

“Large majorities of small business owners want the country to develop energy that is clean and renewable,” said Richard Eidlin, Director of Public Policy for ASBC. “Whether Republican, Democratic or Independent, they want the government to promote energy efficiency and clean technologies and they don’t want our tax dollars to continue subsidizing coal, oil and gas.”

The poll, conducted by Lake Research, gauged opinions on several policy issues currently under consideration in states and in Washington, DC. Of the business owners surveyed, 47 percent were Republicans, 27 percent Democrats and 14 percent Independents. Key findings from the survey included:

  • ASB Council Poll79% of small business owners support increasing energy efficiency by 50% over next ten years.
  • 72% of small business owners think incentives for clean energy are a priority.
  • 63% of small business owners support EPA efforts to limit carbon dioxide emissions of power plants.
  • 62% of small business owners oppose continuing subsidies to oil, gas and coal companies.
  • 63% of small business owners support a national renewable energy standard.
  • 57% of small business owners want banks and other investors to include environmental benefits in business investment decisions.
  • 80% of small business owners support requiring disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

Confirming the poll results, Susan Labandibar, President of TechNetworks of Boston said, “Reducing the use of fossil fuels would benefit all businesses, but especially small businesses that are most affected by damage from severe weather. It makes sense that opinion polls would show that small businesses owners want the government to set and enforce standards for safer, cleaner energy sources. They understand that reducing fossil fuel pollution and boosting clean energy will help small businesses and assure economic stability over the long term.”

Energy Development on Federal Lands Growing

During President Obama’s speech on climate change earlier this week he said that more energy projects needed to be developed on federal land. While some are in favor of this strategy, many are not. Yet according to outgoing U.S. Department of the Interior Deputy Secretary David J. Hayes, energy development on federal lands is robust and opportunities abound for oil and gas production as well as renewable energy projects Hayes made these remarks at a Platts Energy Podium newsmaker event in Washington.

David Hayes Sec of InteriorHayes, who is leaving his post to teach at Stanford Law School in the fall, defended his department’s efforts despite criticism from some in Congress that the Obama administration isn’t moving fast enough to make more public lands available for energy development.

“It is incredibly frustrating how politicized this issue has become,” Hayes said. “On the oil side, onshore, we’ve gone up by 35% in terms of oil being produced on our public lands.”

Offshore development has also increased and Hayes said production in the Gulf of Mexico has not only recovered from delays caused by the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010, but is higher than it’s been in years. He also noted there are increased federal safety standards in place.

While oil production is up, Hayes said natural gas production is down with companies focusing on finds in shale formations (fracking) that are on private and state lands. On the renewables side, Hayes said the Interior Department has approved 25 utility-scale solar facilities, nine major wind farms and 11 geothermal plants – more than 13,000 megawatts of renewable energy power approval since 2009.

“We have done proof of concept that in this country we can have utility-scale renewable energy providing a major energy source to major population centers,” Hayes added.

Consumer Opinion Poll On Gas Prices

FA_SummerGasPoll_National_062513aSummer driving season is in full swing and with it comes grumbling over fluctuating gas prices. A new poll commissioned by Fuels America asked consumers their thoughts on gas prices and renewable fuels. The survey, conducted by Research Now, identifies specific budget items families give up when they are faced with high gas prices, and their attitudes around oil, renewable fuel and the impacts both have on the economy and environment.

Eighty percent polled think the nation (U.S.) should be using more renewable fuel and 73 percent support the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) that is helping this to happen. The poll also found that four of the top five things consumers give up when faced with high gas prices are social or family related activities. Other findings include:

  • 55% said that if gas prices go up, they would likely take fewer road trips to visit friends and family
  • 27% responded they would enjoy fewer meals out at restaurants
  • 17% would cut back on clothes shopping
  • 12% would spend less on gifts for birthdays and holidays.

Fifty-nine percent of respondents blamed the oil industry for high gas prices. In addition four in five said they want the nation to use more renewable fuel and three in four said they want more renewable fuel options at gas stations. ”Oil companies will do anything to keep competition from cutting into their profits,” said Brooke Coleman, executive director of the Advanced Ethanol Council.

“That’s why they’ve launched an all-out assault on homegrown oil-alternatives like renewable fuel. Consumers aren’t being fooled, however. They know oil companies are to blame for high gas prices and demanding choices at the pump. The poll also looked at self-indentifying environmentalists and their opinion of these issues as well,” added Coleman.

Listen to the Fuels America gas price and renewable fuel poll conference call here: Consumer Opinion Poll on Gas Prices
Continue reading

Groups Boo Obama’s Climate Plan

Not everyone is happy with President Obama’s new Climate Change Action Plan. The plan did many things including showed support for more renewable energy such as biofuels; tighter regulations on power plants, mandates to increase vehicle mileage; and increased subsidies for solar and wind projects on federal lands.

Those not in favor say the plan calls for unnecessary restrictions and is economically punishing and will actually stifle job creation – not create more jobs. Jay Lehr, Ph.D., science director with the Heartland Institute, said, “With clear evidence that the planet has not warmed in the pasbnoeryhcqaajvfjt 15 years while carbon dioxide has increased, we know reducing emissions of CO2 will have only one impact: to increase the cost of American energy. Obviously this is Mr. Obama’s intent, and while it will thrill his anti-capitalist environmental supporters, it will hopefully wake up the general public to the fact that he does not have their best interests at heart in creating more radical environmental regulations.”

Lehr’s colleague Craig D. Idso, Ph.D who is a senior fellow, environment and co-editor, Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change, adds, “In discussing the rationale for his climate change and energy plan, President Obama claims that carbon dioxide, or CO2, ‘causes climate change and threatens public health’ and that ‘cutting carbon pollution will help keep our air and water clean and protect our kids.’ Unfortunately, President Obama’s statements could not be further from the truth. Far from being a ‘pollutant,’ carbon dioxide is the elixir of life.”

Some groups say carrying out the climate plan will create a catastrophe including Emily Wismer, an analyst with the Independent Women’s Forum. Continue reading

We Need to Act Now

“Americans are already paying the price of inaction,” said President Obama today during his speech on climate change at Georgetown University. After using the “facts of science” President Obama June 25 2013 Climate Change speechto prove that climate change is real, he asked, “So the question now is will we have the courage to act now before it’s too late. We need to act. “I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that’s beyond fixable. And that’s why today I’m announcing a new national climate action plan and I’m here to enlist your generation’s help.”

In anticipation of his plan, groups from around the country reacted to his new climate plan. Graham Richard, CEO of Advanced Energy Economy (AEE) said, “As a business voice for technology-driven energy progress, AEE believes that President Obama’s plan moves the United States toward a smarter energy future, for economic as well as environmental benefits.”

“Energy efficiency standards will save money as well as energy,” Richard continued. “Utilizing public lands for their solar and wind resources follows in the footsteps of mineral resources and forestry products and should be pursued in the interest of national prosperity. New regulations on emissions will accelerate the replacement of outmoded power plants with high efficiency and low emitting technologies. All of these steps will make the U.S. more of a leader in advanced energy, which is a $1 trillion global market opportunity for American companies and American workers.” Continue reading