Driving responsible growth in biofuels

The renewable fuels standards (RFS) program, established by Congress in 2007, aims to increase the volumes of renewable biofuels that are used in our transportation system, helping the United States move away from fossil fuels to less carbon-intensive fuels. The program seeks to reduce the pollution that contributes to climate change and improve energy security. When Congress passed the RFS, it set annual targets for biofuel use that increase every year through 2022. Congress also gave EPA the authority to adjust those target volumes downward in certain situations.

Today we proposed renewable fuel volume standards that establish a path for ambitious yet responsible growth in biofuels. These standards would provide the certainty the marketplace needs to further develop low-carbon fuels over the coming years. The proposed volumes reflect two realities:

    • One – that Congressional intent is clear that renewable fuel production and use should grow over time. We have already seen success – renewable fuels are being produced and used in increasing volumes. This is true for both ethanol and biodiesel, and recently we have seen important developments in cellulosic biofuels (produced from sources like corn stover), which result in the lowest greenhouse gas emissions.
    • And two – that there are real limits to the actual amounts of biofuels that can be supplied to consumers at this time. These limits include lower than expected demand for gasoline and constraints in supplying ethanol at greater than 10 percent of gasoline.

You may often hear of the “E10 blendwall.” This term refers to the amount of ethanol that could be used if all gasoline contains 10 percent ethanol and there are no higher-level ethanol blends, such as E15 or E85. Today, nearly every gallon of gasoline sold in the United States contains 10 percent ethanol. Providing more ethanol in the system will require blends of fuel with more than 10 percent ethanol, such as E85 (fuel with up to 85 percent ethanol) or E15. While these options are growing, they are not yet available widely. So this proposal will push the renewable fuel market beyond the E10 blendwall, as Congress intended, but in a responsible manner. In developing the proposed standards, EPA considered a range of scenarios that would enable the market to achieve the proposed standards, including ones where use of E85 increases substantially.

Because of the limitations that exist today, we are using the authority Congress gave the agency to adjust the volumes below the annual targets set in the original 2007 legislation. These proposed volumes are achievable in the timeframes under consideration. At the same time, the volumes steadily increase every year, reflecting Congress’s clear intent to drive up the nation’s use of renewable fuel.

Indeed, the proposed 2016 numbers will incentivize real growth in the market.

    • The proposed 2016 standard for cellulosic biofuel – those fuels with the lowest GHG emissions profile – is more than 170 million gallons higher than the actual 2014 volumes. That’s six times higher than actual 2014 volumes.
    • The proposed 2016 standard for total renewable fuel is nearly 1.5 billion gallons more, or about 9 percent higher, than the actual 2014 volumes.
    • The proposed 2016 standard for advanced biofuel is more than 700 million gallons27 percent – higher than the actual 2014 volumes.
    • Biodiesel standards grow steadily over the next several years, increasing every year to reach 1.9 billion gallons by 2017. That’s 17 percent higher than the actual 2014 volumes.

We are committed to increasing the use of renewable fuels through the RFS. At the same time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Energy are building programs that support biofuels, biofuel infrastructure and the many U.S. companies leading the way in this industry. We know that opportunities lie ahead for the biofuels sector as we work through the challenges we face in transforming the nation’s fuel supply. These proposals reflect the Administration’s confidence that renewable fuels can continue to steadily advance and grow.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Feed the Barrel: A tale of how small actions can change the world

Crossposted from Environmental Justice in Action

By Lena Adams Kim

Father Didik of St. Thomas Aquinas church is one of the 15 Barrel Keepers who manage the system of oil collection barrels. The oil he's pouring will become biofuel, compost, and soap.

Father Didik of St. Thomas Aquinas church is one of the 15 Barrel Keepers who manage the system of oil collection barrels. The oil he’s pouring will become biofuel, compost, and soap.

It all started Thanksgiving Day 2013, with my daughters frantically yelling, “The basement is flooding!!!” A visit from the plumber, yards of ruined carpeting, and $900 later, it was clear that cooking oil clogging my kitchen drain was the culprit. And so I did what many do after experiencing the horrors of home damage – I complained to everyone who would listen.

My tale of woe reached Indah, a parent in my kids’ schoolyard. Indah, a journalist of Indonesian descent, mentioned how families in her immigrant Indonesian community in South Philadelphia were grappling with the same clogged pipes and costly repairs, yet unlike me, were often unaware of the cause.

She described how many had emigrated from rural areas of Indonesia, where every drop of precious oil is used, re-used, and then re-used again. Very little oil, if any, was discarded. And those first-world kitchen drains and sewer systems? Non-existent in the 17,000 largely undeveloped islands that comprise Indonesia. Those huge jugs of oil, available at low cost at grocery stores in the U.S.? Unheard of on smaller islands where budgets and resources are limited.

Yet things are far different in America, the land of plenty. Additionally, the cultural knowledge of what can and cannot, go down a drain is instilled in many of us from an early age. Not so obvious, however, to newcomers in a new homeland with new customs.

During my conversation with Indah, I realized there was a beautifully simple solution to this costly environmental issue of used fats, oils, and grease, also called “FOG”, which cause public health problems by entering the waste stream. Just last month, the New York Times reported on the impacts of food waste like oils entering waterways and landfills, ultimately decomposing to emit methane, a greenhouse gas. I wondered, “what if EPA worked with this community on proper oil disposal.” Could it make a difference?

Residents drop off bottles of used cooking oil at one of the neighborhood’s 15 oil collection points.

Residents drop off bottles of used cooking oil at one of the neighborhood’s 15 oil collection points.

Today, two years after my basement flood, things are far different from the clogged pipes of the past. Thanks to connections made by Indah, this vibrant Indonesian community is now the first in the nation piloting a wildly successful residential oil collection program. Called Feed the Barrel, the program has gone far beyond just education on oil disposal. Now, they work with an oil recycler to collect and recycle used oil into biofuel, rich compost, and soap. The money made from the oil collected goes toward improving the community.

It would take pages to detail the unique ways this community tackled this environmental problem — how they insisted on using a local recycler, how they decided to empower children to help spread the word, and how they enlisted spiritual leadership to encourage neighbors in churches, temples, and mosques to become involved.

And it would be impossible for me to describe the pride I see in my neighbors in their newfound ability to spread environmental awareness — which they can give back to their new homeland that has given them so much opportunity.

News of their success in diverting more than 300 gallons of oil in the first year alone has traveled fast. They have been approached by communities throughout the greater Philadelphia area, and in New Jersey and Houston, Texas. Media coverage has been powerful in spreading the word, as their efforts have been highlighted on National Public Radio, in the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the city’s respected Grid magazine.

Imagine — Feed the Barrel started from a schoolyard conversation about providing people with something as simple as information. While EPA’s goal of “meaningful involvement of all communities in environmental decisions” might seem broad, its simplicity allowed, in this case, room to develop a creative solution to a nagging problem.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has said that, “when people are made aware … they are empowered to act.” To learn more about the possibilities of oil recycling, or to follow pilot progress, visit www.facebook/feedthebarrel. And join the rallying cry: Feed the Barrel to Fuel America!

About the author: Lena Adams Kim is a member of EPA Region 3’s Asian Pacific American Council, as well as a communications specialist in the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Division.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Sustainable Biofuel to Combat Climate Change

I’m a supporter of on-the-ground work in academia and how student research programs across the United States are helping to solve our country’s environmental problems, often with assistance from the federal government.

That’s why I was delighted to visit with Dr. Sandeep Kumar and his team of graduate and undergraduate students at Old Dominion University Research Foundation in Norfolk, Virginia.  My visit was timely – EPA had just awarded the team a P3 grant for $15,000.

Garvin Old Dominion

EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin with Dr. Sandeep Kumar’s research team at Old Dominion University laboratory.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

The Proposed 2014 Renewable Fuels Standards: Considering Options and Seeking Input

Today, EPA released the 2014 Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) Proposal, and we’re asking for your input on how to encourage  the production and use of renewable energy while balancing practical constraints on the pace at which the market is currently accommodating ethanol above a threshold known as the ethanol “blend wall.”

If you don’t think about energy policy every day, you might be asking yourself, “what’s a ‘blend wall’?”

The answer to that question goes back to 2007, when Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act. That legislation created the RFS program, which lays the foundation for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reducing America’s dependence on oil by growing our nation’s renewable fuels sector.

The RFS program set a target for the renewable fuels to be blended into transportation fuel that rises each year until 2022. Ethanol generally goes into the nation’s supply of E10, gasoline with up to 10 percent ethanol that is sold across the Unites States. In the years between when Congress created that program and today, production of renewable fuels has grown rapidly, but at the same time, fuel economy improvements and other factors have pushed gasoline consumption far lower than what was expected.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Science Wednesday: The Biofuels Challenge—Searching for Sustainable Fuels for Our Growing Transportation Needs

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

About the author: Mary Ann Curran is a senior research chemical engineer in the Sustainable Technology Division at EPA’s National Risk Management Laboratory in Cincinnati, Ohio. She leads the Agency’s Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) Research program. She conducts research on LCA methodology and application, focusing on biofuels and nanotechnology.

image of author standing in front of buildingLiving and working in the heart of the corn belt, I am continually confronted with the promotion of corn ethanol as the green solution to gasoline. As a researcher in Life Cycle Assessment, however, I know there is a lot more to the story.

Although biofuel energy is renewable, there is some controversy that it is not sustainable due to the harvesting of biomass and the byproducts produced during combustion. With ever evolving technologies and choices in feedstock, biofuels can vary enormously in the type and intensity of environmental harm they may cause. Biofuels must be viewed in the proper perspective.

There is no single replacement to gasoline or diesel that will completely satisfy our need for transportation fuels or settle our concerns of global warming and dwindling oil supplies, but biofuels can make a significant contribution. It’s likely that solutions will be regional ones, depending on what biomass is locally available.

Research is needed to look for better biomass feedstocks and better ways to convert them to bioethanol and biodiesel. Efficiency and decreased demand through conservation must also be part of the solution. Whatever choices we make, they are sure to have far-reaching effects. The global discourse that will certainly continue should not lead us to a biofuel solution that in the end is more environmentally harmful than sucking crude oil out of the ground and cooking it.

I recently ventured far outside my native Ohio to attend the World Biofuels Markets Conference held in Brussels. The Conference started with a presentation by Sir Bob Geldof (most well-known for co-organizing the 1985 Live Aid concert). Sir Bob cautioned that in our enthusiasm surrounding the potential for expanding the world’s use of biofuels, we need to proceed in a smart way “with the competing criteria for sustainability brought into the mix.” I like that.

To learn more about biofuels, I recommend listening to a presentation by Dr. Steve A Kay, UCSD, recorded on November 3, 2008, entitled Biofuels: Hype or Hope.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.