Reaping the Benefits of a Strong Biofuels Industry

By Tom Buis | January 11, 2012

We are still at the beginning of the new year but, as expected, ethanol critics are wasting no time in attacking us. Last year, our opponents blocked our efforts to reform the blenders tax credit and open the transportation fuels market to true competition. Now they are focusing on the renewable fuel standard (RFS), which serves as a crucial support for the ethanol market.

The RFS was enacted by a bipartisan Congress as part of the 2005 Energy Policy Act, and expanded in 2007 under the Energy Independence and Security Act. The RFS has been the single most effective tool at producing the only large-scale, commercially viable alternative to gasoline refined from oil—ethanol. Today, just four years into what is defined as a 15 year plan, we are on target to reach the 15 billion gallon threshold from grain-based ethanol. And with a continued commitment to the RFS, we can achieve the 36 billion gallon goal with cellulosic and advanced biofuel.

But, we must stick to the plan. Abandoning the RFS now would be a step backward. It would put OPEC further in control of our economy and perpetuate our addiction to foreign oil—an addiction that has significantly impacted our national economy and our geopolitical standing. Over the last 40 years, we’ve spent trillions of dollars importing oil, often from nations that are corrupt, politically unstable or outright hostile to U.S. interests. We have been at constant war in the Middle East for the past 20 years for access to oil, at a cost of untold trillions in taxpayer dollars, the loss of more than 6,000 soldiers and creation of a whole new class of wounded warriors, thousands of whom will need long-term care funded by our government.

The intent of Congress when it wrote the renewable fuel standard was to grow an American fuels industry that would help us break free from this addiction and its dire consequences. In fact, the RFS is the only national energy policy in place designed to reduce our dependence on foreign oil through the increased use of biofuel. We can accelerate our progress toward reaching the RFS through the widespread use of E15 and installation of flex-fuel pumps.

Moving the nation to E15 will create 136,000 new jobs and will reduce carbon emissions the equivalent of taking 1.35 million cars off the road—and reduce the need to import 7 billion gallons of oil a day. And, a full move to E15 will send the right signals to investors, creating the market that will drive the growth and commercialization of cellulosic ethanol—ethanol produced from biomass feedstock, such as citrus waste, wood waste or corn stover—which is nearing commercial viability. Today, several leading grain ethanol makers are nearing market-scale production for cellulosic ethanol and with the right market signals we will continue to see more producers enter the market.

The cellulosic ethanol industry will create significant jobs for rural communities, help deliver energy security to the U.S. and reduce harmful emissions in the air. The U.S. DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory found that cellulosic ethanol promises to reduce carbon emissions by 86 percent compared to gasoline.

While it may take some time to bring all the pieces together, we are well on our way to reaping the economic and national security benefits of a strong, domestic biofuels industry. A strong commitment to the RFS and an open fuels market will strengthen our energy security, generate more U.S. jobs that can’t be outsourced and improve our environment.

Author: Tom Buis
CEO, Growth Energy