RFS crucial to clean energy future

With rapidly growing energy demands, our nation and others must invest in homegrown biofuels that are cleaner, cheaper and offer a more reliable supply than fossil fuels, writes Tom Buis. This column appears in the December issue of EPM.
By Tom Buis | November 16, 2015

When EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy spoke with our members at the Growth Energy Advocacy Conference this fall, she said, “President Obama is fully committed to addressing the challenge of climate change, and he knows as well as you do that the RFS is a tool we need to bring to the table. The RFS is a crucial part of a broad, administration-wide strategy to act on climate change and propel us even faster toward a clean energy future.” Now, as countries across the globe gather in Paris for the United Nations Conference on Climate Change, we’d like to echo McCarthy’s statements and issue a reminder that biofuels are a key part of the climate change solution.

From Nov. 30 to Dec. 11, countries at the conference will aim to reach, for the first time, a universal, legally binding agreement that will enable us to improve air quality and boost the transition towards resilient, low-carbon societies and economies. These important, ambitious goals can be met with the help of biofuels and supportive policies. The renewable fuel standard (RFS) is the most significant carbon reduction policy the United States currently has in place, and similar policies can be adopted in other countries.

As a result of our ethanol policies, the United States reduced its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by approximately 37.6 million metric tons in 2014 alone, which is the equivalent of removing 8.4 million automobiles from the road. The RFS, as expanded in 2007,  set a goal of producing 36 billion gallons of renewable, domestic fuel by 2022. And if our nation has the resolve, we could almost eliminate our need for fossil fuels used for automotive transportation and replace it with a homegrown, environmentally friendly, renewable fuel. With the tremendous increases in corn yields and more than 1 billion tons of cellulosic biomass in the United States, the possibilities for ethanol are staggering.

According to Argonne National Laboratory, compared to gasoline, ethanol reduces GHG emissions by an average of 34 percent. Ethanol producers are also developing new and innovative ways to produce sustainable biofuels from farm waste and woody biomass, ushering in the next generation of renewable fuels that promise even greater reductions in GHG emissions. Argonne National Laboratory estimates that cellulosic and other advanced biofuels will reduce GHG emissions by 100 percent or more compared to gasoline.

As farming practices continue to advance, more alternative energy sources are used in ethanol production, and pipeline infrastructure is built for distribution, ethanol’s GHG emissions will continue to decline. National policies have encouraged investment, research, technology and innovation that have reduced the energy and environmental footprint of the grain-based ethanol industry and stimulated the production of next-generation biofuels. Ethanol plants have already improved performance in ethanol yield, water utilization and thermal energy application.

With rapidly growing energy demands, our nation and others must invest in homegrown biofuels that are cleaner, cheaper and offer a more reliable supply than fossil fuels. Imagine all of the good we can do for the environment and for our future by increasing the blend of ethanol in our fuel supply.

Author: Tom Buis
Co-chairman, Growth Energy