The Renewable Fuel Standard—For This Generation and the Next

By Tom Buis | October 05, 2012

The renewable fuel standard (RFS) has been our nation’s only successful energy policy enacted in the past 40 years. Under the RFS, biofuels now account for 10 percent of our gasoline supply. We are poised to do much, much more, reaching the goal of 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel by 2022. The RFS has answered the challenge of reducing our dependence on foreign oil and will continue to serve as a steppingstone to foster investment and innovation in both our grain-based fuels and next-generation biofuels. 

Yet, the all-out attack on renewables continues. Whether its grain-based ethanol, cellulosic ethanol or advanced, drop-in biofuels, critics continue to smear biofuels and use misinformation to distort the truth. We have the opportunity to make our own energy, right here in America, but we will not succeed if we allow special interests, foreign oil and Big Food to block our progress.

The RFS continues to drive innovation. We’ve seen ever-increasing efficiency in production of today’s corn- and grain-based biofuels and biodiesel as well as major advancements for the future production of advanced ethanol from grain sorghum and biomass resources. Under the RFS, we will continue to innovate and improve to make better fuels for tomorrow.

Next-generation biofuels hold tremendous promise for our future energy needs. Production of cellulosic biofuel can be a 50-state solution that the entire country can benefit from, not just one particular region. In fact, currently the U.S. is home to more than 1 billion tons per year of available biomass that can be converted to roughly 80 to 100 billion gallons of biofuel! Using feedstocks such as farm waste, wood pellets and other biomass such as switchgrass and algae presents diverse and limitless potential.

Constant attacks have been lobbed at the lack of availability of next-generation fuels and their progress has been slower than anticipated. Unfortunately, no one predicted that in 2008, shortly after the RFS was enacted, a deep recession would cause innovation and investment to take a back seat. As the recession begins to thaw, however, there is renewed interest and motivation to bring advanced biofuels on a commercial scale to the marketplace.

Among the many companies investing in the next generation of biofuels, Poet LLC is one of the producers leading the way, working on cellulosic ethanol since 2001. After successful trials at its pilot plant in Scotland, S.D., Poet moved forward with Project Liberty in Emmetsburg, Iowa, now under construction and scheduled for completion by the end of 2013. The project will create jobs and help revitalize our rural economy, leading the way to greater commercialization, providing a fuel that is better for the environment and reduces our addiction to foreign oil. This is the next step in ensuring that American money stays here at home, instead of going to OPEC. Using corn cobs, leaves, husks and stalks not only provides ample feedstock, but also reduces farm waste and is consistent with good farm management. The Emmetsburg plant is located right next to a corn-ethanol plant, proving ample access to feedstock, while also streamlining the process of production, productivity and efficiency.

Another leader in next-generation biofuel production, Green Plains Renewable Energy Inc., has expanded its facility in Shenandoah, Iowa, to commercialize algae production as part of its ongoing program to produce next-generation biofuels. Not only is this a sustainable process, but this innovation exemplifies the cutting edge nature of those in the renewable fuels industry. Many others are looking to venture into cellulosic and advanced biofuels. Many enzyme companies have invested heavily and are major players in the continuing effort to realize the full potential of next generation biofuels.

For these advancements to enter commercial scale, our industry must continue to fight for the RFS and push back on the relentless attacks and misinformation from Big Oil and Big Food. We have the facts on our side. We are creating jobs right here in America that cannot be outsourced, revitalizing rural economies, improving our environment and reducing our addiction to foreign oil, all while saving consumers money at the pump. This is a defining moment for our industry, and Growth Energy is dedicated to defense of the RFS and the success of America’s biofuel producers.

Author: Tom Buis
CEO, Growth Energy
(202)545-4000
tbuis@growthenergy.org