Ethanol Blog

Biofuels Groups Tell Pruitt not to Forget Cellulosic Ethanol from Fiber

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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Ethanol industry group have been asking, yet getting little feedback from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on an overlooked aspect of the Renewable Fuel Standard: the production of cellulosic ethanol using corn fiber at corn ethanol plants.

Such technologies are rapidly growing in popularity. In short, today's enzymes that break down corn into usable parts for ethanol production, also are producing a certain percentage of cellulosic ethanol using the same corn kernels.

A number of biofuels interest groups on Thursday, pressed EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to give cellulosic ethanol from corn fiber more attention in the RFS. The agency soon is expected to begin work on the 2019 RFS renewable volume obligations.

"Unleashing corn kernel fiber ethanol production will bring significant and immediate economic, environmental and energy security benefits," the groups said in the letter. "Existing ethanol plants could produce hundreds of millions of gallons of cellulosic ethanol from this single stream of agricultural residue in the near term."

Currently, corn ethanol production in the United States creates a demand for about 5.4 billion bushels of corn. Technologies that allow for cellulosic ethanol production from that same corn, adds value to the crop for farmers.

Biofuels groups have said the agency has in effect discounted the role ethanol from corn fiber could have in boosting cellulosic ethanol production.

"The overly conservative corn kernel fiber ethanol projection, compounded with uncertainty around how quickly EPA will approve new corn kernel fiber ethanol technologies for D3 RIN (renewable identification numbers) generation, threatens to slow adoption of cellulosic production capacity at existing ethanol facilities across the country," the letter said.

In 2017, EPA said in its final RFS volumes analysis that "facilities that convert corn kernel fiber to cellulosic ethanol at existing ethanol production facilities have generally over performed" compared to agency estimates.

The groups expressed concern about EPA's methodology for forecasting cellulosic biofuels production in 2018, saying the agency changed the methodology used.

"We understand the importance of being accurate when it comes to projecting cellulosic biofuel production," the groups write.

"The underlying issue with the new methodology is it relies too heavily on historic trends that do not accurately reflect more recent advancements achieved by the corn kernel fiber cellulosic ethanol sector."

The groups asked the EPA to examine the cellulosic waiver credits system, so as to not "undercut demand" for liquid cellulosic biofuel gallons.

"By passing the RFS, Congress signaled to the market to make long-term business decisions to invest in and produce increasing commercial volumes of first- and second-generation biofuels," the letter said.

"We have responded by investing tens of billions of dollars in U.S. biofuel development. For a variety of reasons -- including the challenge of scaling up a new technology, the global recession occurring immediately after RFS passage, and RFS implementation failures starting in 2013 -- it has taken the cellulosic biofuels industry longer to achieve commercial readiness."

The letter is signed by the Advanced Biofuels Council, the American Coalition for Ethanol, Biotechnology Innovation Organization, Bio Kansas, Bio Nebraska, Growth Energy, Illinois Biotechnology Innovation Organization, Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Renewable Fuels Association,, Michigan Bio, Michigan Corn Growers Association, National Corn Growers Association, National Farmers Union, Advancing Biofuels Research, Nebraska Corn Growers Association, Renewable Fuels Association, Renewable Fuels Nebraska and South Dakota Biotech.

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