Zeroing In On New Opportunities

Our industry's growth hinges on policy, continued innovation and successfully contributing to the world's low carbon needs. The value of ethanol extends beyond the pump, and market growth may ultimately happen both on the ground and in the air.
By Geoff Cooper | November 10, 2021


RFA is excited to announce that our National Ethanol Conference will be taking place in person in February 2022 in New Orleans. The theme we selected for this year’s  event—“Zeroing In On New Opportunities”—is an especially pertinent one today, as our nation’s capital continues to debate climate policy and the need to reduce carbon emissions over the long term. Our theme, and the two key messages it conveys, reflects our vision for the future of the ethanol industry.

First, the theme’s “zeroing in” reference speaks directly to the industry-leading commitment RFA members unanimously made to ensuring ethanol achieves net-zero lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 or sooner. As we pointed out in a letter to President Biden, ethanol’s carbon footprint continues to shrink rapidly, as new technology and innovation have improved the efficiency of the entire ethanol production process, from the field to the fuel tank. While we are proud of these advances, many opportunities exist to deliver even greater GHG reductions in the near and mid-term.

The theme’s second aspect, “new opportunities,” is a clear focus on the significance of new uses and markets for ethanol and its coproducts. Energy, chemical, and consumer products companies around the world are beginning to recognize that ethanol’s renewability and low-carbon attributes have value that extends far beyond the gas pump. One promising new market for our industry is the potential use of ethanol as a feedstock to produce sustainable aviation fuel, or SAF. Many in Washington have made decarbonization of the aviation sector a top priority.

In September, I was invited to speak at a White House roundtable on the future of sustainable aviation fuel, an event where the Biden administration announced a goal of 3 billion gallons of SAF by 2030. At the meeting, led by White House climate advisor Gina McCarthy and attended by several cabinet secretaries and members of Congress, I shared RFA’s view that SAF production presents a major new market opportunity for ethanol producers—but only if fair and scientifically sound lifecycle analysis methods are used to estimate the carbon impacts of different SAF sources. 

Likewise, there are modest steps Congress and the Biden administration need to take to better facilitate our industry’s quest to achieve net-zero emissions and open the door to new markets.

Specifically, RFA encourages Congress and the administration to move forward with several key policy initiatives: development of a national Clean Fuel Standard to complement the Renewable Fuel Standard; support for broad deployment of carbon capture, utilization and storage; and increased production and deployment of more flex-fuel vehicles.

Voters would strongly support these efforts. Polling that RFA undertook with Morning Consult in September discovered that two-thirds of those surveyed not only support ethanol and the Renewable Fuel Standard, but also agree that ethanol should be part of the strategy to achieve zero emissions economywide by 2050, help diversify America’s fuel supply, and help ease price spikes that come from disasters. American consumers are on our side, and we need to keep reminding political leaders of this fact and of the broad support for ethanol as an important energy component moving forward.

Our future is bright, but the industry’s success depends in large part on the right policy and continued innovation by ethanol producers. To learn more about how the ethanol industry will zero in on these exciting new opportunities, I encourage you to join us at February’s National Ethanol Conference. I hope to see you there!

Author: Geoff Cooper
President and CEO
Renewable Fuels Association