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Red, White, and Green:
Transforming U.S. Biofuels
ja n e e a r l e y a n d a l i c e mc k e ow n
W O R L D WAT C H R E P O R T
Red, White, and Green: Transforming U.S. Biofuels
jane earley and alice mckeow n
l i s a m a s t n y, e d i t o r
w o r l d wat c h i n s t i t u t e , wa s h i n g t o n , d c
© Worldwatch Institute, 2009 ISBN 978-1-878071-90-3
The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the Worldwatch Institute; of its directors, ofﬁcers, or staff; or of its funding organizations.
On the cover: Advances in technology can help improve current biofuels and develop new alternatives. This near-infrared spectrometer, promoted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, enables researchers to chemically analyze plants and trees in the ﬁeld, increasing the speed of the analysis and cutting down costs.
Photograph by Bonnie Hames, courtesy NREL
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Table of Contents
Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 The Promise of Biofuels . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 Biofuels in the United States Today . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 Climate and Environmental Impacts of Current Biofuels . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 Benefits of “Advanced” Biofuels . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16 Making Biofuels Sustainable . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21 Federal and State Biofuel Policies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26 The Road Ahead: Policy Options for Sustainable U.S. Biofuels . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30 Endnotes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34 Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43
Figures, Tables, and Sidebars
Figure 1. U.S. Biofuel Production, 1990–2008 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 Figure 2. U.S. Corn Used in Ethanol Production, 1980–2008 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 Figure 3. U.S. Corn and Soybean Prices, 2000–09 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11 Figure 4. U.S. Ethanol and Gasoline Prices, 2005–09 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11 Figure 5. GHG Emissions Reduction Potentials for Ethanol, by Feedstock Type . . . . . . . . 13 Figure 6. Biofuel Requirements Under the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard, 2009–22 . . . . 26 Table 1. Biofuel Production by Country/Region, 2008 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 Table 2. Selected Biofuel Sustainability Initiatives . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23 Sidebar 1. Biofuel Basics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 Sidebar 2. Algae for Biodiesel: Third-Generation Biofuels . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 Sidebar 3. Technologies for Advanced Biofuels: Biochemical and Thermochemical Platforms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19 Sidebar 4. Biomass and Biofuels: Transitioning Transportation Fuels . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24 Sidebar 5. California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard: A Model for National Policy? . . . . . . . 29
This report has been through many reinventions, benefiting from a range of experts and researchers who have made this timely update possible. We are thankful for the continued guidance and expertise of Christopher Flavin, President of Worldwatch, and Janet Sawin, Director of the Institute’s Energy and Climate Change Program. We also appreciate the contributions of Raya Widenoja, who laid much of the early groundwork for the report, and the numerous outside experts, who provided thoughtful input on the report and its recommendations. Special thanks also to Stanford MAP Fellow Amanda Chiu, who researched the figures and tables and contributed an informative sidebar. Antone Neugass showed great flexibility in his research skills and in finding new data that pulled the paper together. Senior Editor Lisa Mastny played an essential role in commenting on early drafts and moving the draft through production, and Art Director Lyle Rosbotham provided the clean design and layout. The authors also appreciate the support of Juliane Diamond, who helped with the important tasks of fact checking and filling in last-minute research holes. Support for this project and the Worldwatch Institute over the past year was provided by the American Clean Skies Foundation, the Heinrich Böll Foundation, the Blue Moon Fund, the Casten Family Foundation, the Compton Foundation, Inc., the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Goldman Environmental Prize, the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund, the Good Energies Foundation, the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, the Steven C. Leuthold Family Foundation, the Marianists of the USA Sharing Fund, the Netherlands Environment Ministry, the Norwegian Royal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation, The Shared Earth Foundation, The Shenandoah Foundation, the Sierra Club, Stonyfield Farm, the TAUPO Fund, the United Nations Population Fund, the United Nations Environment Programme, the Wallace Genetic Foundation, Inc., the Wallace Global Fund, the Johanette Wallerstein Institute, the Winslow Foundation, and the World Wildlife Fund–Europe. Support was also provided by the generous contributions of more than 3,000 Friends of Worldwatch.
About the Authors
Jane Earley is an attorney and the managing partner of Earley & White Consulting Group, LLC, where she specializes in the international trade and environmental aspects of standards in international law. She is currently working on emerging standards for biofuels and agricultural carbon credits and on efforts to address sustainable agriculture in U.S. and international standards. Jane has broad experience in the public and private sectors and with both voluntary and regulatory standards. She has served as a trade negotiator with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, as director of the Sustainable Agriculture Unit of the World Wildlife Fund, and as CEO of the Marine Stewardship Council. Alice McKeown is a research associate at the Worldwatch Institute and the director of Vital Signs Online. She has followed and written about environmental issues for many years and currently writes about climate change, energy, and agriculture issues. Her recent publications include a “Climate Change Reference Guide” for Worldwatch’s State of the World 2009 report and articles on genetically modified crops, aquaculture, compact fluorescent light bulbs, and coral reefs. Alice has a background in environmental advocacy and grassroots organizing, including more than five years of lobbying and policy experience. She has worked extensively on issues surrounding the use of coal, including climate change, air pollution, and community destruction caused by mountaintop removal coal mining. Alice supports the local foods movement and is proud to know her farmer.
Red, White, and Green
w w w. w orldwatch.org
but also from fastgrowing trees and grasses as well as from a range of organic wastes and potentially even algae. compared to gasoline. These latter concerns are now the main driver behind the promise of biofuels. If land that is rich in carbon is converted from forests or other natural ecosystems to biofuels production.S. Taking the more sustainable path includes an immediate transition to “second-generation” biofuels while phasing out reliance on unsustainable first-generation fuels.Summary O ver the last decade. Advanced biofuels can be produced not just from annual crops. biofuels industry to contract. these benefits can fall away completely.S. or a more cautious approach during which decision makers take the time to “get biofuels right” before rushing forward with more production. Rapid growth in biofuels use in the past five years has contributed to a sharp increase in food. however. that the production of advanced biofuels at a large scale will be environmentally beneficial. threatening jobs and livelihoods. biofuels have been championed in the United States as a new source of income for rural communities. enhancing their ability to mitigate climate change. Research is now under way on the conversion of cellulose to biofuel. and dozens of entrepreneurs are working to commercialize this and other advanced biofuel technologies. on aver- age. if any. so too do the social. Corn ethanol leads to only minimal. reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The country must now choose between a business-as-usual approach that worsens environmental and climate problems. an ofttouted benefit and justification for expanding biofuels production. economic. White. Three broad efforts in U. But as the market for biofuels expands. There is no guarantee. These feedstocks may also require fewer fossil fuel inputs and retain more carbon in their soils than corn and soybeans.” At the same time. and soybean prices in the United States and abroad. policy would make biofuels production more environmenRed. as biofuel crops compete with forests and food crops for limited land and other resources. Studies suggest that the environmental costs of producing “first-generation” biofuels such as corn-based ethanol on a large scale likely outweigh the benefits. as a way to reduce dependence on foreign oil.S. These price fluctuations have fueled a global debate over “food versus fuel.worldwatch. Current best estimates suggest that corn ethanol provides only a 12 to 18 percent net reduction in emissions. and Green 5 www. leading the United States and other governments across the world to encourage greater production and use. and most recently as a solution to the country’s energy and climate change problems. These concerns point to a crossroads for the U. feed grain. These costs include increased water pollution. the loss of wildlife habitat. the global economic recession has led the U. and environmental impacts. and declining freshwater resources. although current assessments show much promise. Of particular concern is the link between biofuels expansion and the global conversion of land for agriculture.org . The feedstocks can be grown on marginal land that does not have to compete with food production and that can be cultivated in ways that minimize harmful effects on water quality and wildlife habitat. biofuels industry.
white. Reforming U. and use byproducts. w orldwatch. ways to reduce congestion. Decision makers should also consider wider transportation solutions such as more fuel-efficient vehicles.Summary tally sustainable and help ensure that the use of biofuels for transportation contributes to both energy security and global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions: 1. Spur the rapid development of cellulosic and other advanced biofuels that significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. power refineries. Getting there will require careful analysis of biofuel production. rising damage to the landscape and climate will fuel greater opposition. Develop sustainability standards and make government support for biofuels conditional on meeting these standards. they offer the prospect of a more sustainable energy future. distribution. and use.org . using existing economic instruments and other tools. 3. 6 Red. and if they are not reformed. biofuel policies will require overcoming an array of economic forces that uphold the current industry structure. and Green w w w. Rather. The solution to the biofuels challenge is not simply a matter of substituting different feedstocks. 2. White. Although second-generation biofuels are not a panacea. Create a holistic energy policy across all transportation-related sectors. and urban planning that promotes biking and walking. investments in public transportation. Present policies reward the least promising biofuels. including alternate ways to grow feedstock.S. and green path. it is about finding a new model that takes the United States down a truly red.
In addition to plant feedstocks. Biofuels are just one form of “bioenergy. which is known collectively as biomass. transportation sector uses an estimated 14 million barrels of oil to power more than 244 million cars. and mustard.) As production has * Endnotes are grouped by section and begin on page 34. sugar beets. and • oilseed crops. and sweet sorghum. canola.S. the primary feedstocks fall into three main categories of agricultural crops that are also used for food: • sugar crops. biofuels are not typically stand-alone fuels but are blended into conventional fuel sources. Ethanol is typically found as a blend with petroleum gasoline. generating the fuel from corn and sugar cane. including sugar cane.org Red. But there are many other potential biofuels. using more sophisticated technological processes that have to first break down cellulose into sugars. the U.) Biofuels research and development has been under way in the United States since the late 1970s. but they have important distinctions. • starch crops. The two most popular biofuels nationwide are corn-based ethanol and soy-based biodiesel. and biogas. cassava. as the transportation sector now accounts for nearly 30 percent of U.. and Green 7 . but the industry came into its own only in the last decade. wheat.The Promise of Biofuels E very day. www. biodiesel can be made from animal fats and waste oils. the main biofuel produced domestically. the impetus for reducing dependence on petroleum and other fossilbased transport fuels grows stronger. and other vehicles. although certain modified vehicles (“flex-fuel”) can run on a higher E85 (85 percent ethanol) blend. and the United States and Brazil are the two leading producers.3 Biofuels.8 billion gallons in 2000 to 21 billion gallons in 2008. trucks. ethanol. As the promise of renewable fuels has been more widely advertised. Source: See Endnote 4 for this section. are now touted as a solution to the country’s energy and climate problems.5 Ethanol accounts for the bulk of global biofuels production. and biodiesel are sometimes used interchangeably.g. Currently.worldwatch. governments around the world have moved to produce and promote wider use of biofuels.” or energy derived from biological plant and animal matter. Biofuel Basics The terms biofuel. biofuel usually refers to liquid fuels for transport. whereas bioenergy or biomass energy is commonly used to describe electricity or heat generated from renewable biomass sources.S. barley. “Second-generation” ethanol (e. cellulosic ethanol. including rapeseed. sunflower. which have long been popular with farmers who see a new market for their crops. such as gasoline and petroleum diesel. cellulosic ethanol) is made from more advanced and nonfood crop feedstocks. soybean. Globally.. and milo (grain sorghum). including biodiesel. corn ethanol) is made by fermenting sugars from plants with high starch or sugar content into alcohol. Biodiesel can be used in pure form (B100) or as a blend with petroleum diesel. although biofuels can theoretically be produced from a wide range of plant and animal feedstocks. Sidebar 1. Biodiesel is made by reacting oils with alcohols in a process known as esterification. When used for transportation. Conventional or “first-generation” ethanol (e.6 (See Table 1. including corn. production of ethanol and biodiesel increased from some 4.2 Worries about climate change add to the alarm.g. greenhouse gas emissions.4 (See Sidebar 1. White. In the United States “biofuel” is most often used in reference to cornbased ethanol. Biofuels can be derived from an array of feedstocks using astonishingly diverse technologies. respectively.1* As concerns about energy security and the nation’s self-proclaimed “addiction to foreign oil” escalate. In the United States. biobutanol. using the same basic methods that brewers have relied on for centuries.
95 0.08 12. requires that 36 billion gallons of biofuels be included in the U. supporting greater industry expansion.05 1. updated in 2007.982 6. which produces the fuel mainly from soybeans.78 44. increased. w orldwatch. and soybean prices.10 1.S.13 In the United States.14 0.15 0.8 Global production of biodiesel has grown rapidly as well. based primarily on corn ethanol.40 0.73 1.21 13.9 The European Union produces nearly 80 percent of the world’s biodiesel.10 Indonesia and Thailand are significant producers of biodiesel from palm oil.08 0. Rapid growth in biofuels use in the past five years has contributed to a sharp increase in food. but by 2007 this share had climbed to 8 percent.66 9. so too has the fuel ethanol trade. and social impacts of this boom. 2008 Country/ Region million gallons Ethanol million tons of oil equivalent (mtoe) Biodiesel million gallons mtoe Total million gallons mtoe United States Brazil European Union (EU-27) China Canada Thailand Colombia India Australia Rest of World World 8. Biofuel Production by Country/Region.7 Biofuels account for an estimated 1 percent of global transport fuel consumption.9 billion gallons in 2008.17 0. and Green fuels are only beginning to be understood.S.693 6. It must also work to speed the transition to so-called “secondgeneration” biofuels derived from agricultural and forestry wastes and other non-food sources. social.15 The U. liquid fuel mix by 2022.24 0. which hold greater promise for the environment and global climate. In 2000. is creating a host of problems while failing to deliver measurable reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. exports represented only some 2. including a maximum of 15 billion gallons of corn ethanol from 2015 on. These “indirect” effects of bio8 Red.08 0.780 2.24 32. largely from rapeseed (Germany is the single largest biodiesel producer). it must take aggressive and concerted action to address the serious environmental. biofuels industry is at a crossroads.09 0. w w w.12 Of particular concern is the link between biofuels expansion and the global conversion of land to agriculture.The Promise of Biofuels Table 1.31 1. and economic concerns that stem from current biofuels production.45 0. as biofuel crops compete with forests and food crops for limited land and other resources.53 11. feed grain.846 542 264 213 109 72 44 640 21.S. environmental.93 711 308 2.14 But industry experts predict that corn ethanol production could surge well beyond this level if oil and fuel prices continue to rise.54 0. In order to become sustainable over the long term. followed by the United States.113 41 26 123 30 6 18 512 3.02 0.888 2.472 734 502 238 90 79 66 26 128 17.317 17. Yet U. The nation’s Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).13 0.33 0.05 0. White. it is clear that the current biofuels industry.5 percent of global production.13 0.23 7.11 Expanding biofuels development has triggered worldwide concern about the economic.59 Source: See Endnote 6 for this section. policies continue to support the rapid increase in biofuels production.12 0.205 19.92 6. Biodiesel output expanded from 230 million gallons in 2000 to 3.org .53 0. although starting from a much smaller base.37 0.
S.) But ethanol’s share of annual U.4 * While the nation’s ethanol market experienced a significant downturn at the end of the year. The U. up from only 5 percent in 2000. Licht. White. and Green 9 www.S. there is still considerable potential for growth over the next few years.O. the country was home to 193 ethanol plants with a combined nameplate capacity of 12. biodiesel production has lagged far behind ethanol in volume.6 billion gallons. and demand barely topped 2 billion gallons.S. will be used to produce ethanol in 2009–10.9 (See Figure 2. and projections for 2009 are more conservative.S. gasoline use is expected to remain relatively small: about 10 percent by 2020 and 15–17 percent by 2030. 57 more than the year before.worldwatch. 1990–2008 10. U. and Archer Daniels Midland. Department of Agriculture (USDA) predicts that farmers will plant some 85 million acres of corn in 2009–10. In 2002. demand for corn.3 (See Figure 1. and demand topped 9. in 2008 domestic ethanol production was estimated at 9 billion gallons.000 Biodiesel Ethanol 6. F. producers generated some 2. VeraSun. Biofuel Production.000 0 1990 1993 1996 1999 2002 2005 2008 in the market share of industry leaders such as POET. including some 500 million gallons of imports.000 2.2 billion bushels.10 U. agricultural regions have lobbied successfully for policies to increase domestic biofuels use as a way to shore up corn prices and stimulate rural development.org .4 billion gallons.S. or 4.S.6 In early 2009.Biofuels in the United States Today T he U. biofuels industry has really taken off only in the last decade or so. U. 160 companies were producing ethanol in the United States.1 billion gallons of ethanol. a known groundwater contaminant. down slightly from the year before but still the third largest acreage since 1949 (following 2007 and 2008).000 Million Gallons 4.000 Source: RFA.S.2 By comparison. In the late 1990s.) The increase in ethanol consumption reduced U. but the industry Red. U.7 Rising ethanol production has led to a sharp increase in U. Figure 1. NBB 8.5 The addition of the new companies contributed to a decline * 1.8 As much as one-third of this corn crop. although the market has changed considerably in just the last two years as economic conditions have changed. demand for motor gasoline by about 5 percent in 2008.1 Since then. As of September 2008. ethanol production has expanded rapidly over the past decade.S.5 gallons of ethanol are needed to displace 1 gallon of gasoline because of ethanol’s lower energy content. strong initial growth in ethanol production stemmed from the need to find a less toxic substitute for the gasoline additive MTBE (methyl tertiary butyl ether).S.
VeraSun. such as livestock and poultry production and the manufacturing of high-fructose corn sweeteners.16 The rising price of corn has caused hardship for other U.S.17 In 2009.20 But as oil fell to $36 a barrel in early 2009.) Estimates indicate that the high U. even though it had been a rising star earlier in the year.400 80 60 1. When oil prices were high—up to $147 a barrel in July 2008— corn ethanol continued to flourish. ethanol blending became less attractive and producers were faced with expensive feedstocks and lower profits. White. and profits.18 Rising food costs due to ethanol production are projected to cost the government an additional $600–900 million in expenditures on federal food assistance programs in fiscal year 2009. demand.22 All of these factors led to high volatility in 2008 in both the wholesale price of ethanol and in the per-gallon profit. and Green .1 percent for the year.) The volatility in feedstock prices. agricultural sectors that rely heavily on corn for animal feed and other products. Corn Used in Ethanol Production. dollars. The nation’s biodiesel producers rely mainly on soybeans and waste cooking oil as feedstocks. led to a shakeup in the U. the largest one-year decline since records began in 1950—and the market for ethanol blending eroded further.S. w w w.Biofuels in the United States Today Figure 2. domestic biodiesel output was only 711 million gallons. demand for corn for ethanol production accounted for 20 percent of the rise in corn prices in 2008. compounded with the global economic downturn and credit crisis of 2008.64 billion gallons of capacity.13 Another 850 million gallons of capacity is slated to come online by the end of 2009. U. with a combined annual capacity of some 2. demand for corn ethanol was responsible for 10–15 percent of the rise in food prices for the year ending in April 2008.S.24 Other U.21 Domestic demand for gasoline dropped late in 2008 as well—down 7.org 10 Red. a significant input to current systems of food production.15 * (See Figure 3. In October 2008.6 billion gallons. ethanol industry.19 More recently.S. w orldwatch. filed for bankruptcy. 1980–2008 4. the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the increased * All dollar amounts are expressed in U. there were 176 biodiesel plants nationwide.23 (See Figure 4.S.12 Yet production remains well below capacity: in 2008.600 40 800 20 0 1980 1984 1988 1992 1996 2000 September–August Market Years 2004 2008 0 has expanded rapidly as well.S. although some are using canola or cottonseed oil.S.11 As of September 2008. the country’s second largest producer with 1. corn production 2.14 The rapid expansion in biofuels—particularly corn ethanol—has had mixed economic impacts.000 Source: USDA 100 Ethanol Share of Corn Production (%) Corn Used in Ethanol Production (million bushels) 3. One of the more cited effects is the higher volatility of corn and soybean prices triggered both by demand-induced price increases and by sharp jumps in the price of oil.200 Corn used in ethanol production Ethanol share of U. a sharp decline in oil prices has put pressure on biofuel producers by squeezing their profit margins.
38 Future prospects for U. the full extent of problematic debt and other financial instability remains largely unknown. low or moderate oil prices.Biofuels in the United States Today companies also declared bankruptcy. One study in the state of Minnesota. U.28 Estimates show that only some 34 percent of U. job creation have been mixed.27 Although investment in corn ethanol was profitable for many investors initially. these numbers do not take into account the possible adverse impacts on the food and livestock industries from the diversion of corn to ethanol.S. and other advanced biofuels are positive. accounting for about 21 percent of U. U. and large sell-offs of biofuel assets. especially with a worsening economy.35 The Renewable Fuels www.S. U.29 Additional consolidation in both the ethanol and biodiesel industries is expected.000 jobs during 2007. job creation from ethanol. One study estimates that renewable transportation fuels could lead to more than 1.worldwatch.30 The loss of local ownership can translate into fewer benefits for local communities. 2005–09 6 Ethanol Unleaded gasoline 5 Dollars per Gallon 4 3 2 1 0 2005 Source: Platts 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 Association estimates that the ethanol industry supported the creation of some 238.000 new jobs nationwide in 2007 and some 52.31 Local ownership may be particularly beneficial to farmers.33 The effects of ethanol plants on U.org Figure 3. annual capacity.34 However. White. but more realistic estimates may be 130–250 permanent jobs during a boom year.000 jobs in 2008. biodiesel.36 By comparison. Corn and Soybean Prices.37 This translates into about 635 new direct and indirect jobs for every 10 million gallon plant. who may earn up to 10 times more per bushel from ethanol-related dividends than from selling the crop without dividends and under absentee ownership.S.S. and the trend was expected to continue through 2009.S.26 Because many ethanol companies are privately owned. ethanol facilities were locally owned in 2006— down significantly from earlier years—and this share has continued to plummet to no more than 21 percent in 2009.25 Estimates indicate that more than 24 ethanol plants were shut down or idled between late 2008 and March 2009.2 million new “green” energy jobs by 2038. Ethanol and Gasoline Prices. and Green 11 . suggests that local ownership can increase local economic benefits by 5 to 30 percent. 2000–09 15 Source: USDA Soybeans Corn 12 Dollars per Bushel 9 6 3 0 2000 2002 2004 2006 2008 2010 Figure 4. assuming that infrastructure development and feedstock growth will support a 30 Red.S.32 Another study from Iowa indicates that every quarter-share of local ownership at an ethanol plant supports some 29 jobs in the local economy (beyond plant operations) during a period of high returns. industry consolidation in recent years has resulted in the transfer of many locally owned plants from farmer cooperatives to large companies. biodiesel plants were estimated to support more than 20. where as many as 80 percent of ethanol facilities remain locally owned. Industry reports initially promised the creation of nearly 700 permanent jobs in an area near an ethanol plant.S.
could lead to the creation of 2 million jobs if the country achieves 25 percent low-carbon fuels content by 2025. and the U.000 direct jobs) by 2012.39 Another study estimates that investment in green jobs.48 Changing the blend level is more than a formality.44 One estimate indicates that the number of investment banks with a history of supporting ethanol development over the last decade has dropped from around 20 to only five today.43 The global recession and credit crunch are often cited as hampering the development of advanced biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol.Biofuels in the United States Today tional support is necessary to maintain a viable industry. percent share of renewable fuel demand by the same year.org .42 U.000 jobs (including 29. currently set at a maximum blend level of 10 percent ethanol into conventional gasoline (known as E10). Environmental Protection Agency and DOE are studying the effects on vehicle engines and the environment of raising the blending limit. Including ethanol in every gallon of gasoline in the country is currently impossible due to limitations in production. White.40 The U. distribution. and Green w w w. but some proponents argue that addi- skidrd * A higher-level blend of 85 percent (E85) can be used only in specially modiﬁed engines and is sold at only a small number of ﬁlling stations across the United States.S.S. and other issues.47 * Many ethanol proponents have argued that this virtual production cap—often called the “blend wall”— will soon be reached. ethanol producers continue to receive generous subsidies (amounting to an estimated $8 billion in 2008) to help maintain production. Washington. w orldwatch. up to 20. some experts predict that the blend level may be raised to 12 or 13 percent in the short term. Department of Energy (DOE) projects that for every 1 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol that comes online. necessitating higher blending limits of 15–20 percent to guarantee a larger domestic market for ethanol and encourage more development and investment. a study released in early 2009 predicts that meeting the advanced biofuels requirements of the Renewable Fuel Standard will create 123.5 billion gallons per year because of the total amount of transportation fuels used. including in the biomass and advanced biofuel and cellulosic ethanol sectors.46 These financial uncertainties have been a leading factor in calls to increase the nation’s ethanol blending limit. before the full effects are known.49 With mounting pressure from industry groups and potential support from the heads of both agencies. however. Limiting the level of ethanol that can be blended restricts the overall amount of ethanol that can be sold in the United States to about 12. 12 Red.41 Lastly.000 jobs may be created.50 Bioidiesel blends available at a station in Seattle.S.45 Some investors are also reluctant to invest during a time of low or moderate oil prices and weak demand for oil and ethanol.
Estimates of energy balance vary widely among and even within fuel types. compared to gasoline (the Environmental Protection Agency estimates a 22 percent reduction). Point markers indicate best estimates made by EPA.S. however.6 (See Figure 5. These emissions occur when fertilizers and pesticides are manufactured. the stalks that remain after sugar cane has been pressed to make sugar.5 Current best estimates suggest that corn ethanol provides only a 12–18 percent net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.8 Figure 5.) As a result. when evaluated over the entire fuel lifecycle (from field to tank). more efficient processing. a carbon-intensive fuel.Climate and Environmental Impacts of Current Biofuels B iofuels are considered to be an environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels in part because they have the potential to emit fewer greenhouse gases per mile traveled than gasoline and petroleum diesel.” or the amount of energy contained in the biofuel compared to the amount of fossil fuel used to produce it. such as when crops are tilled and when new land is cleared for feedstock cultivation. and other developments.org Red. White. and when the processed fuel is transported and used. www.4 The energy balance for some biofuels is expected to improve over time with increased yields. and applied. the lifecycle emissions for ethanol can be as high as or higher than those associated with gasoline. and operate refineries. when fossil energy is used to run farm machinery. is used to power the refinery. GHG Emissions Reduction Potentials for Ethanol. transported. trees.worldwatch.7 In places where coal. depending on such factors as where and how the fuel is produced and on specific assumptions used in the studies. in large part because the refining process is fueled by sugar cane bagasse. pump irrigation water.7 percent in 2008. biofuels depend on significant fossil fuel inputs that release a variety of greenhouse gases.3 Ethanol from sugar cane also offers a strong energy return.S. and other plants) continually store carbon in their root systems and the soil. ethanol consumption reduced total emissions from the U. on average. In theory. including carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide. In reality. transportation sector by only 0. biofuels could be a “zero-carbon” or “carbon-negative” energy source because many potential feedstocks (grasses.2 Most research indicates that biodiesel and other advanced biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol display some of the highest lifecycle energy balances.1 Greenhouse gases are also released during changes in land use. One way to analyze a biofuel’s climate contribution is by assessing its “fossil energy balance. and Green 13 . current U. by Feedstock Type 0 Emissions Reduction Potential (%) -20 Corn Ethanol -40 Sugarcane Ethanol -60 -80 Cellulosic Ethanol -100 Note: Ranges are based on scientific literature and do not include emissions from changes in land use.
a potent greenhouse gas.18 Recent studies suggest that the nitrous oxide released during biofuels production may in fact be four times greater than was previously estimated.23 Continuous corn cropping in particular has been criticized for reducing soil carbon. corn farmers have had to increase their fertilizer use in recent years because they chose to boost their profits by skipping annual rotations of corn with a legume crop. especially when carbon-rich ecosystems such as forests.9 not only in the United States but also in other countries.15 Estimates indicate that using first-generation biofuels to meet 10 percent of global fuel consumption by 2030 would require an additional 291–1. A 2006 study from the University of California at Berkeley found that. croplands and food crops to biofuel production can cause land use changes 14 Red. The use of chemical inputs also contributes to a biofuel’s energy and climate footprint.10 The EPA puts the average emissions reductions even higher—at 68 percent—based on a combination of soybean and yellowgrease feedstocks. on average.14 Dedicating U.Climate and Environmental Impacts of Current Biofuels Land use changes will also affect the climate impact. requires only 2 percent of the nitrogen and 8 percent of the phosphorus. as land is converted to make up for the overall loss in food crops. although application rates vary significantly by crop. in contrast. Biodiesel. per unit of energy gain. in contrast. and the soil is both deprived of a fresh carbon source and exposed to air and sunlight that causes it to release carbon that was stored. biofuels contribute to the emissions of other w w w. Current best estimates for soy-based biodiesel show a 41 percent improvement in lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions over conventional diesel. about 40 percent of corn ethanol’s greenhouse gas emissions occur during the agricultural phase of production. savannahs. that corn ethanol does. and grasslands are converted. and it degrades into nitrous oxide. w orldwatch. and Green jimparkin/stockxpert .12 One study estimates that clearing tropical forests to plant oil palm plantations for biodiesel will incur a “carbon debt” of 75 to 93 years—the amount of time needed for the biofuels made from the palm oil to offset as much greenhouse gas emissions as was released during land clearing.22 Climate change impacts from farming also occur when soils degrade over time and lose their organic carbon stores. Land that is cropped annually stores very little carbon in its vegetation.19 Many U.16 Other factors that will increase the demand for cropland include rising populations and the expanding global appetite for meat. such as soybeans. Studies indicate that the emissions from land use changes made to accommodate greater corn production—such as converting forests to cropland—would take decades to “repay” through any reductions that corn ethanol brings by displacing fossil fuels.20 Producing soybean biodiesel.S.17 Nitrogen fertilizer in particular is often over-applied. and could shift the fuel from reducing greenhouse gases by 20 percent to doubling them instead.255 million acres of cropland depending on feedstock and productivity: the equivalent of 8–36 percent of the world’s current arable land.11 Clearing land for new crop production can release large amounts of greenhouse gases. which can help to restore soil nitrogen levels.24 In addition to releasing greenhouse gases. has more than double the climate benefits of corn ethanol.21 Low-input perennial plants such as prairie grasses also require fewer chemical inputs than corn. such as during extensive tilling.org An ethanol production plant surrounded by corn in South Dakota. the carbon debt rises to 600 years.S.13 If native peatlands are cleared. White.
org Red.S. combined with the impacts of climate change on U. despite only a doubling in production. while others result from fuel combustion in the vehicle engine. is likely to reduce the habitat available for some of these species. requires about one gallon of water per gallon of fuel produced. as these crops have the potential to cross-breed with native plants to produce invasive weeds—or to become invasive species themselves. or about 200 times the water used at the ethanol refinery.S. while cellulosic biofuels will reduce particulate pollution.Climate and Environmental Impacts of Current Biofuels air pollutants.33 One study estimates that irrigating corn for ethanol requires some 780 gallons of water per gallon of fuel produced. and Bobolink. and Green 15 . including grassland birds such as the Grasshopper sparrow.36 Biofuels production is also expanding in regions where non-renewable aquifers are shrinking. National Academy of Sciences concludes that expanding corn ethanol production to meet the Renewable Fuel Standard will also result in considerable additional harm to domestic water quality. agriculture depends heavily on irrigation from the Ogallala Aquifer. in contrast.38 Several new ethanol refineries are slated for construction near the aquifer.S. including in areas where the water table has already dropped significantly. as well as mallard ducks. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).45 www. Lark bunting.29 The Gulf of Mexico “dead zone. which is being tapped at an unsustainable level.37 In the southern Great Plains.28 Other research predicted that planting more corn to meet ethanol targets in the United States alone would increase nitrogen pollution to the Mississippi River by 37 percent. at both the local and regional levels.40 The corn ethanol boom poses a particular threat to the U.worldwatch. with studies showing both small increases and small decreases in nitrogen oxides (NOx) pollution. The current or future cultivation of non-native biofuel crops presents a further threat to biodiversity conservation. landowners will have a continued incentive to turn much of this land back to production. especially if the net revenues from growing ethanol feedstocks continue to be higher than those associated with keeping the land in conservation.26 Air quality impacts for biodiesel have been unclear. improve wildlife habitat.35 Biodiesel. ethanol’s water demand more than tripled.30 Growing soybeans for biodiesel also adds to the problem. which encourages farmers to “set aside” or retire marginal lands from production as a way to reduce soil erosion. and restore watersheds. and more than 20 million acres of CRP land are up for renewal in the next few years. Baird’s sparrow.27 A report from the U. ecosystems. including smog-forming compounds and particulates.32 Corn ethanol is very water intensive— not just at the refinery stage.43 A variety of animal species rely on the habitat provided by CRP lands for their survival.25 Other research points to air pollution problems from low-level ethanol blends and shows mixed results with high-level (E85) blends. water consumption for ethanol is likely to increase as corn cultivation expands to drier areas: between 2005 and 2008.” caused by nitrogen and other water pollution. was its second largest on record in 2008. but also in the field. where each gallon of fuel produced requires 3–4 gallons of water. A study from the University of Minnesota indicates that corn ethanol— regardless of how the refinery is powered—will always increase particulate pollution compared to conventional gasoline. although the amount of water required for irrigation varies significantly. constraining their range and reproduction.44 A loss in CRP lands.41 In 2008. mainly from increased nitrogen and phosphorous loading in surface and ground waters. corn acreage will come at the expense of land and wildlife conservation.S. Some of the pollutants are released during the refining stage. with the bulk of the pollution estimated to come from agriculture in the Mississippi River basin. White.S.39 Further expansion of U.42 With a guaranteed market for 15 billion gallons of ethanol through 2022.31 Biofuels are contributing to water supply concerns as well. some 2 million acres were removed from the program.34 U.
some studies suggest that removing just 25 percent of the corn stover from fields will reduce soil quality and decrease carbon content. Corn stover—the stalks and cobs that remain after harvesting—is actively being promoted by corn interests as a feedstock for second-generation refineries.4 But there are downsides to the use of these trees. However. federal support was first levied in the late 1970s. compared with 425 gallons from conventional corn ethanol.3 Fast-growing trees are being considered as potential feedstocks as well.5 A closely related potential feedstock is forest waste from the timber industry and more-aggressive clearing of underbrush for fire w w w. Other potential feedstocks being tested include blue grass.Benefits of “Advanced” Biofuels A lthough ethanol and other biofuels have become more sophisticated in the years since U. Advanced biofuels rely on non-food feedstocks and offer dramatically improved energy and greenhouse gas profiles over conventional biofuels such as corn ethanol. Of the many possible perennial feedstocks. derived from the fibrous—or cellulosic—material in plants. Potential cellulose sources include perennial grasses and fast-growing trees. manure.S. Nearly all studies on the role of biofuels in mitigating climate change and boosting energy security conclude that the transition to so-called “second-generation” or “advanced” biofuels is necessary to make the wider use of biofuels feasible. White. such as fats. and energy cane. especially in locations where the species are non-native and may be invasive. they need to develop much further if they are to be a sustainable energy solution. switchgrass has received the most attention in the United States. and the organic material in urban wastes. the tropical Asian grass Miscanthus. The most widely cited second-generation 16 Red. some of which are being developed as dedicated “energy crops” that can be converted to ethanol or biodiesel. Crop residues. But large-scale development of advanced biofuels has not yet taken place. in the form of stems and leaves.1 Advanced biofuels can also be made from non-plant biomass sources. w orldwatch. the broad economic and environmental effects of the fuels at commercial scale are not yet known. While many of these feedstocks and technologies are promising. and Green biofuels are “cellulosic” biofuels. gammagrass.org kurmis/stockxpert . Wood chips from timber waste come off a shredder’s conveyor belt. even on prime agricultural land. including hybrid willow and poplars that can grow well with few chemical inputs. a variety of sugar cane bred to produce high sugar levels. represent another substantial source of cellulosic biomass.2 Corn stover also yields relatively few gallons per acre: 180–270.
S. This translates into producing as much as 100 times more oil per acre than standard oil crops such as soybeans. the current high costs of production (primarily a result of energy inputs) must be reduced.Benefits of “Advanced” Biofuels Sidebar 2. although the yield could theoretically be much higher. however. Microalgae have drawbacks. Early U. Despite limited government funding. Like second-generation feedstocks. research on microalgae for biofuels began in the early 1980s under the DOE’s Aquatic Species Program. They grow rapidly.S. the U.9 Research from the Argonne National Laboratory showed that the useful energy provided by the ethanol is approximately nine times the energy required to produce it. Another potential drawback of algae is the high water demand. Researchers are also considering genetic manipulation of algae to improve performance. resulting in reduced greenhouse gas emissions. which could pose environmental threats if grown in open systems where the organisms could spread to natural ecosystems. with hundreds of companies now working to commercialize microalgae for biofuels. low-input.S. The DOE has resumed research. interest has grown again. In the last two years. including a Solix Biofuels plant in Colorado connected to a beer brewery and plans by GreenFuel Technologies to build a site linked to a cement plant in Spain. Department of Energy (DOE) puts the price at roughly $8 per gallon. during budget cuts in the late 1990s the program was discontinued in favor of pursuing research on ethanol. White.org its lifecycle production (from field to tank). private research and testing has continued. some researchers and industry groups are taking a look at microalgae—often called the “third generation” of biofuels. One of the latest developments to garner media attention is the testing of a commercial jet plane fueled in part by algae biofuel. and the recent decoding of the genes of two widely available ocean-dwelling microalgae. especially with the use of outdoor ponds that have high evaporation rates (although closed systems or the use of wastewater streams minimize this risk). Microalgae offer many potential benefits as a feedstock. which could help further microalgae research.4 times more energy than invested.) One of the most compelling advantages of advanced biofuels over conventional biofuels is the potential to provide a more positive energy balance.10 Red.7 (See Sidebar 2. microalgae do not compete with food crops.worldwatch. low-management switchgrass ethanol in three Midwestern states can yield 5. including in the fermentation of ethanol and as a supplement in animal food. These oils can be separated and used to produce biodiesel and other biofuels. and it hosted a workshop in December 2008 to discuss both barriers to commercial development and the release of an Algal Biofuels Roadmap. The U. Other recent advances include a breakthrough in light immersion that allows algae biomass to grow to depths of one meter (10–12 times deeper than before). They may also confer additional environmental benefits.8 One study has shown that sustainable. Microalgae are photosynthesis-based single-celled organisms that can combine energy from the sun with carbon dioxide and other nutrients to produce biomass that is rich in natural oils. cellulosic ethanol has the potential to provide 4–9 times more energy than is required to produce it. Algae for Biodiesel: Third-Generation Biofuels As research continues on second-generation advanced biofuels. Source: See Endnote 7 for this section. Several companies have developed systems to divert carbon dioxide emissions from industrial operations into algae production. with some species doubling their mass in a single day. and Green 17 . Algae can also be carbon neutral if the biomass residue after oil collection is converted and used to power the processing system. However. Whereas corn ethanol yields about 25–35 percent more energy than is invested in www. Departments of Energy and Agriculture estimate that 368 million dry tons of these wastes could be harvested sustainably every year. these systems may be able to provide significant greenhouse gas benefits. For the biofuel to be competitive. prevention.6 Another advanced and even more cutting-edge “third-generation” feedstock is algae for biodiesel. By using emissions that would otherwise be vented to the atmosphere. including cleaning wastewater. Although some experts estimate costs as high as $33 per gallon. Costs could be lowered by using waste heat as a power source and by selling byproducts for other uses.
generates residues of lignin that can be used as a process fuel.21 But if fastgrowing trees are cultivated. land.17 One issue that deserves closer analysis is the potential advantage of cellulosic biofuels for soil. such as in instances where waste byproducts are used to help power the biomass conversion process.12 For example. it can still provide habitat for small animals and birds).14 In terms of projected fuel yields. U. and phosphorous by 83 percent. Perennial crops such as switchgrass and other prairie grasses can be harvested annually with minimal increases in soil erosion (and. research shows that some perennial crops. researchers found that planting all available land with switchgrass reduced sediment flows (and thus erosion potential) by 84 percent. and perhaps as little as 300 gallons. Current estimates suggest that fueling vehicles with cellulosic ethanol could reduce emissions by 86–94 percent compared to gasoline (the U. will produce less than 500 gallons an acre. test plots planted with switchgrass have yielded enough biomass to produce nearly 1. unless yields are improved with breeding or by using a combination of high-yielding grasses. Fort Collins. Several estimates of the amount of harvestable biomass in the United States assume that much of the existing Conservation Reserve Program land will be used for energy crop production—posing a potential threat to these lands. an average crop of 155 bushels of corn per acre will provide less than 500 gallons per acre.Benefits of “Advanced” Biofuels These energy gains represent climate benefits for second-generation biofuels. meanwhile.S. for example.19 Using a combination of high-yielding perennial grasses rather than monocultures may improve benefits to wildlife as well. such as switchgrass. if the grass is not cut too low. making the refining process largely independent of fossil-based power such as coal and natural gas.13 trast. like corn. White. however.200 gallons of ethanol per acre annually. more-complex selective harvesting would be needed to avoid substantial soil erosion and to leave sufficient habitat for large wildlife. w orldwatch.23 w w w. switchgrass.11 Many of these climate-gain estimates are based on the need for fewer agricultural inputs as well as increased soil carbon storage. and Green Colorado State University .org The Solix Biofuels test site for algal biofuel research at Colorado State University. will incur much higher environmental costs and may mirror some of the same problems seen with firstgeneration biofuels.16) In practice.20 The environmental advantages of cellulosic biofuels can be amplified further with the use of appropriate management practices. and wildlife conservation. in a simulation of the impacts on soil and water quality in a central Iowa watershed over 20 years. Under these conditions. Colorado. secondgeneration feedstocks vary widely. Processing cellulosic ethanol.18 Other research confirms that lower inputs of agrochemicals for second-generation feedstocks can have potentially positive effects on soil and water quality. Advanced biofuels also offer potential emissions benefits during refining. may store enough carbon in the soil and root mass to overcompensate for carbon released during the rest of the lifecycle. wetlands. Environmental Protection Agency estimates 91 percent) versus a reduction of only 12–18 percent on average for corn ethanol. and high-diversity habitats. it makes sense to grow switchgrass and other perennial biofuel crops on more marginal lands than in the test plots to avoid competition for good farmland. meaning they could help take carbon dioxide out of the air on a net basis.15 (In con18 Red.22 Harvesting on fragile soils. For example. waterways.S. nitrogen concentrations by 53 percent.
40 per gallon—more than double the costs for corn and sugarcane ethanol. states. and chemical catalysts. developing feedstocks that are easier to break into components. and microorganisms to break down plant feedstocks into components that can be converted to fuels. While both of these platforms are understood today. Technologies for Advanced Biofuels: Biochemical and Thermochemical Platforms Second-generation production of cellulosic biofuels currently follows one of two technology platforms. production cost estimates for cellulosic ethanol were $2. Although the biochemical process is normally associated with ethanol production. pressure. it may be used to make other fuels. such as that based on corn. the cellulose must be broken down further into sugars. but it most often includes Fisher-Tropsch liquids (FTLs). it can use currently available technologies that help reduce the cost. The feedstock is heated until it converts into a syngas. Also.24 Cellulosic refineries also require large amounts of feedstock. improving microorganisms for fermentation.” which relies on enzymes or biological processes to break down the feedstocks.S. finding technologies to better clean syngas. and Green 19 . more research is needed to make second-generation biofuels more cost-competitive with first-generation biofuels and to bring advanced biofuels to commercial production.29 In April 2009. from the estimated $60 per ton in 2007 to $47 per ton by 2012. with a total projected capacity of 630 million gallons per year. and discovering efficiencies that can help make more fuel at a lower cost. Departments of Agriculture and Energy hope to lower total feedstock costs. some researchers are investigating the use of modified E. or in the planning stages in 31 U. The ethanol produced through the biochemical process is identical to ethanol generated through first-generation production.org efficiency of biofuel processing and make cellulosic ethanol cost-competitive with first-generation biofuels and gasoline. including wood and forest wastes that are difficult to convert through the biochemical platform. under construction. Pretreatment and hydrolysis are used to separate the cellulose from other plant fibers such as lignin and hemicellulose. The second platform. The flexibility of feedstocks offers advantages as well.” which relies on heat. there were 25 cellulosic ethanol demonstration or pilot Red. and associated emissions reductions. The first. collection. and storage to help lower the overall cost. Once separated. enzymes. including ethanol. refers to a process that uses chemicals. They also have their advantages and disadvantages with regard to feedstock flexibility.S. estimated at 700 tons per day for a facility producing 10–20 million gallons of fuel per year. including these factors. transporting. which would allow for direct production of ethanol. coli to convert cellulosic feedstocks to microdiesel. Potential areas for further research include developing better pretreatment processes and enzymes for hydrolysis. One alternative being explored is to use fermentation with the syngas rather than a catalyst. thermochemical. because the thermochemical platform is similar to the way petroleum is refined.28 (See Sidebar 3. The type of fuel that results is determined by which catalyst is used. which can be fermented into alcohols that are then distilled into ethanol or other fuels. cost. which is compatible with biodiesel. which are similar to biodiesel. As of late 2008.26 The U. Source: See Endnote 28 for this section. For example. too. works by applying heat and chemicals to convert almost any kind of biomass into a variety of fuels.worldwatch. biochemical. The potential benefits of the thermochemical process include its ability to better convert cellulosic materials. and the “thermochemical platform. White.27 A variety of second-generation processing technologies have the potential to improve the www. which is then run through a catalyst that changes it into a liquid fuel.25 Producing such large quantities will require advances in harvesting. Both approaches can be used to produce a wide variety of fuels. as well as a range of alcohols.) As of July 2008—before the recent economic downturn—an estimated 55 cellulosic biorefineries were completed.Benefits of “Advanced” Biofuels Sidebar 3. The two biggest limitations for cellulosic biofuels are arguably the cost and the challenges associated with transporting and storing massive quantities of cellulosic feedstock. These processes can be divided into two main approaches: the “biochemical platform.
Benefits of “Advanced” Biofuels plants in operation. w orldwatch.”35 In May 2009. Farm Bill’s “Biorefinery Assistance Program. wastes. including agricultural residues.org . loan guarantees.39 20 Red. and additional funding. woody biomass.36 The DOE is also providing significant funding. and dedicated energy crops.33 Federal agencies are providing funding for most of these ventures. a recent report from the Sandia National Laboratories concluded that as much as $250 billion in investments is needed to achieve production levels of 60 billion gallons a year.38 However.S. and Green w w w. including up to $385 million for six cellulosic ethanol plants as part of a goal to make cellulosic ethanol costcompetitive with gasoline by 2012.34 In January 2009.31 These facilities are embracing a wide diversity of feedstocks.37 Individual states are funding projects as well. one at the pilot level and one at the demonstration level. including refinancing. the USDA approved its first-ever guaranteed loan for a commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant—a wood-chip facility in Georgia—under the U.30 There were also two cellulosic diesel plants in operation. White. although only nine were producing at a significant level. cellulosic ethanol refineries are located across the country.32 Unlike corn ethanol refineries that are concentrated in the Midwest. President Barack Obama directed the Secretary of Agriculture to increase investments in advanced biofuels production.
One way to address the potential consequences of ongoing biofuels development is by developing broadly applicable sustainability standards for the fuels (similar to measures that exist in the forestry and organic food sectors) that go beyond existing quality-control and technical standards. agriculture. Elements of existing sustainability standards for forestry. oil palm can Red. such as protecting workers’ rights. White. Developing widely accepted sustainability criteria for biofuels is difficult due to the range of variables involved and because the environmental effects of biofuels are often highly specific to the crop type.worldwatch. But there is no guarantee that this will be the case.org Achmad Rabin Taim . An oil palm plantation on former forest land in West Java. some analysts fear that the market will simply adjust. and Green 21 www. So far. incorporate environmental considerations. only a handful of them address social and economic considerations.2 However. most efforts to define “biofuel sustainability” are being pursued at a relatively small scale. Fortunately. For example. These improvements can best happen if producers and policies give preference to biofuels that are produced in an environmentally and socially sustainable manner. and energy products are already being applied to biofuels. and guaranteeing fair compensation for land use or land transfers. As the demand for biofuels increases. many people who work with biofuel supply chains now realize that nearly all stages of the biofuel process—from production to processing to the choice of fuel available—could be improved.4 There is a general consensus that biofuels should produce less greenhouse gas emissions than conventional petroleum fuels and produce more energy than is required for cultivation and processing. and that are processed using technologies that deal with wastes responsibly and even utilize these byproducts as energy sources. however.3 Many more efforts. contributing to local development. location and climate. especially when the fuels are produced at a large scale. including lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions and energy balance. supporting increased production while ignoring the environmental and social costs.Making Biofuels Sustainable M any second-generation biofuels show the potential to be more sustainable than conventional biofuels.1 Such criteria would enable biofuel producers to engage in thirdparty certification of their practices and products and help end-users determine whether the fuels they use were produced in a sustainable manner. or production process. Indonesia. that offer the highest lifecycle emissions-reduction values.
12 For biodiesel. For conventional biofuels.7 valuable as livestock feed).10 For biodiesel processing. it may be possible to significantly reduce the environmental impacts of biofuels simply by using different feedstocks. an ethanol byproduct.6 For some crops. it requires 50–80 percent less fuel than tillage-based agriculture. improvements in processing include enhanced energy efficiency and a greater reliance on renewable energy as a power source.13 Jatropha requires few water or fertilizer inputs. soil quality. is able to grow on land unsuitable for food crops. a greenhouse gas more powerful than carbon dioxide. and Green USDA/NRCS/Gene Alexander . Sustainability criteria can be applied to biofuel processing as well. grows on marginal lands. the use of irrigated water. a method of sowing crops without disturbing the topsoil. however. Because no-till cultivation minimizes the number of passes over a field needed to establish and harvest a crop. such as the use of processing wastes to generate energy or to serve as an animal feed. as a process fuel to lower their emissions (although for now the grains are more 22 Red.9 Some plants are exploring the use of biogas from cattle manure to power the process. which affects water supply. and is inedible. from entering the atmosphere. and the use of different fuels to power the refining process. there is interest in using the byproduct glycerin as an energy source. and is highly efficient—can be substituted at corn ethanol refineries. which has the added climate benefit of preventing methane. but it can have a positive effect if it is grown on degraded land. so its expansion would not compete with traditional food production.18 (See Table w w w. and greenhouse gas emissions.S. the plant requires special handling and processing because it is toxic to humans.15 Notill farming also helps minimize the release of carbon from soils. For example. White. which affects water quality.5 Other practices that can determine the degree of environmental impact include the use of fertilizers and pesticides.14 Better management practices on farms are also an important component of biofuel sustainability and can be built into sustainability standards and criteria. there may be a positive net energy yield only if the benefits from byproducts are included in the analysis. but only some 20 percent of corn producers have embraced the practice. farmers who practice the method continuously for at least five years. versus a 3 percent emissions increase if powered by coal. suggesting more room for adoption. w orldwatch.8 Ethanol plants could also burn distiller’s grains.org No-till planting of corn on the contour in a field in northwest Iowa.16 No-till is currently being used on one-fifth of the nation’s farmland. Climate-friendly choices include avoiding fragile lands and practicing no-till cultivation. A 2007 analysis from the Argonne National Laboratory showed that corn ethanol produced in a facility fired by wood chips could achieve emissions reductions of 52 percent compared to gasoline. possible substitutes for soybeans include the oilseed plants camelina and jatropha. and the Chicago Carbon Exchange now grants “carbon credits” to U.17 Among the most prominent efforts to develop voluntary sustainability criteria for biofuels are those coordinated by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels and a variety of other multi-stakeholder groups.Making Biofuels Sustainable have an adverse effect on biodiversity if it is grown on land that is newly converted from primary forest. the use of crop rotations to preserve soil carbon.11 Even with first-generation biofuel technologies. grain sorghum—a crop that requires low resource inputs.
The alliance’s draft sustainability standards include environmental. economic. is striving to create a consensus among stakeholders on a certification program for sustainably produced biodiesel. soil. Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) Roundtable on Responsible Soy (RTRS) Council on Sustainable Established in 2007.worldwatch. Table 2. biofuels must demonstrate a 35 percent savings in greenhouse gas emissions compared to their fossil fuel counterparts. Members include government agencies.S. by 2020. a common biodiesel feedstock. SBA.) The European Union has attempted to integrate sustainability criteria into national biofuels policy as well. CSBP is working to develop sustainability criteria for the production Biomass Production (CSBP) of feedstocks for second-generation cellulosic biofuel refineries in North America.) Mandatory standards are also under development. including requirements under the U. the RSPO brings together industry and organization representatives to work toward a sustainable supply chain for palm oil.S. and social best practices. Renewable Fuel Standard to consider the climate impacts of indirect land use changes. air.org Red. based on a lifecycle analy- A field of ripening sorghum in Arkansas. a U.19 Under the directive. including biofuels. European Committee for Standardization (CEN) Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance (SBA) Known for creating voluntary European standards on a range of items. and economic and development issues. including biofuels. In early 2009. Source: See Endnote 18 for this section. The program’s first certified “sustainable” oil was shipped to Europe in 2008. Initiated in 2004. www. nonprofit. the EU finalized climate regulations that require 10 percent of the region’s transport fuels to come from renewable sources. and Green 23 Cyndy Sims Parr . environmental groups.Making Biofuels Sustainable 2. human and labor rights. The group also envisions a certification mechanism or purchasing guidelines to follow the criteria. California recently adopted a regulation that requires the use of lower-carbon-intensity fuels over time and plans to incorporate additional environmental and social standards in the future. water. Officially established in 2004 in response to increasing concerns over palm oil plantations. The group is also working on a corresponding verification program. Selected Biofuel Sustainability Initiatives Group Description Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels (RSB) The most prominent international multi-stakeholder initiative. land rights. and biofuel producers. the RTRS is working to create sustainability criteria and principles for global soybean production that cover a range of environmental and social issues. the CEN established a technical committee in 2008 to establish sustainability criteria for biomass. the RSB has developed draft sustainability principles and criteria for sustainable biofuels production and processing. The guidelines address climate change. White. food security. (See Sidebar 5 on page 29. biodiversity.
Electricity is a more versatile form of energy than liquid biofuels. Biomass is considered one of the most promising fuels for CHP applications because it is one of the few renewable energy resources that can be transported and stored relatively easily. Many of the same feedstocks currently used to make biofuels—such as crop and wood residues. and electric motors. Biomass and Biofuels: Transitioning Transportation Fuels Substituting biofuels for fossil fuels in transportation is usually an assumed part of any energy solution to address climate change. most of which bring additional societal benefits. solar. biomass is the second largest source of renewable electricity after hydropower yet accounted for only 1. provided the electricity is generated from renewable sources. another greenhouse gas. are less certain.) Biofuels have tremendous value as a “transition” fuel as the world moves away from its current reliance on fossil fuels and toward a low-carbon future. White. however. such as higher fuel efficiency. biomass is being used to generate electricity at a large scale via two main methods: “combined heat-andpower” (CHP). But evidence shows that there might be better alternatives for our transportation needs and that the best use of biomass may be for electricity and heating. using biomass for electricity and heat is likely a more sustainable option than using it to produce biofuels to meet energy and transportation needs because of higher efficiencies. especially when the electricity is used to power plug-in hybrid-electric and electric vehicles. Co-firing holds the most potential out of all renewables for reducing a significant amount of emissions in the near term. the land use efficiency of producing biomass for electricity and heat remains uncertain. In Sweden.Making Biofuels Sustainable Sidebar 4. the city of Kalmar plans to replace its fossilfueled electricity and heating infrastructure with biomass CHP. where as much as 22 percent of the electricity supply is generated from biomass. and Green w w w.3 percent of electricity generation in 2007. and urban wastes—can also be used to generate electricity and heat. where traditional biomass accounts for nearly 14 percent of the electricity supply and half of the energy derived from renewable sources. CHP operates at efficiencies of between 75 and 90 percent and generates two products: electricity and useful heat. where exhaust heat from electricity generation is used to provide an additional energy service. biomass-fueled electricity could play a more critical transportation role. using biomass for biofuels would cost up to three times more than using biomass for electricity and heat. w orldwatch.org . According to one study. Today. 24 Red. for the same amount of reductions. and they might have a more prolonged presence in fueling heavy-duty vehicles. not biofuels. trees and grasses. The heat is used either to warm residential and commercial buildings or to fuel industrial processes. greater emissions reduction potential.) Many countries and cities already rely or plan to rely on biomass for electricity and heating. CHP is also a high priority in Denmark. And using biomass for electricity to power vehicles reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 108 percent more on average than if biofuels had been used. Research indicates that in the long term. Electricity could therefore be a more climate-friendly “transport fuel” than biofuels. (Changes in nitrous oxide emissions. which leads to linear reductions in carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide emissions. (As with biofuels. —Amanda Chiu Source: See Endnote 24 for this section. could reduce fossil fuel demand. Using biomass for electricity and heat in both transport and non-transport applications could significantly lower the costs of reducing emissions. while providing 81 percent more mileage. as well as greater investment in public transit. Biomass-fueled power generation can also be ramped up when needed. with the goal of phasing out all fossil fuel use by 2030. according to a study by the Oak Ridge and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories. and biomass power. And increased use of non-motorized vehicles such as bicycles as well as the adoption of more pedestrianfriendly urban planning could shift dependence away from transport fuels altogether. and “cofiring. biofuels are currently the only near-term alternative to fossil fuels. There are also many non-fuel options to reduce the environmental impacts of the transport sector. Over the long term. In the United States. and considerably lower costs. Advancements in vehicle technology.” a process that burns a combination of biomass and coal. In the transportation sector. particularly for use in passenger vehicles. lighter weight. While conventional coal plants emit about 1 metric ton of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour. in contrast. biomass can substitute for up to 20 percent of the coal in co-firing plants. including wind. with power providers able to choose from a wide variety of low-carbon energy options.
21 Feedstocks cannot be grown on lands that have a high biodiversity value.org Red. or on peatlands. crop residues. soil. White. covering both environmental issues such as air.20 The regulations also require that these emissions savings increase over time. and biannual reports must address the sustainability of regional biofuels use. and water protection as well as social issues such as food prices and land rights. the lack of pipelines. more cost-effective use of energy crops.worldwatch. and Green 25 . and other biomass is for electricity and/or heat production. woody trees.24 (See Sidebar 4. and problems with biomass collection and storage—may also force the United States to rethink the future of biofuels in its energy mix.Making Biofuels Sustainable sis. These experts argue that a better. rising to 50 percent by 2017.25 www.23 Many bioenergy analysts argue that if the end goal is sustainability—in particular the mitigation of climate change—then producing liquid biofuels for transportation may not be the most optimal use of the world’s biomass resources.) Current and expected limitations in ethanol infrastructure and production—such as difficulties transporting ethanol.22 The EU will also study the effects of indirect land use changes by the end of 2010. on lands considered to have a high carbon stock.
6 Perhaps more significantly.) Through these targets and associated funding. promulgated in 2005 but amended under the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007. It also charges the U. Specifically.org 26 Red.8 To qualify for the RFS. the revised RFS includes some degree of sustainability criteria. particularly corn ethanol.” with 16 billion gallons of that from cellulosic biofuels.3 (See Figure 6.Federal and State Biofuel Policies P olicy choices are instrumental in determining the direction of national. 2009–22 40 35 30 Billion Gallons 25 20 15 10 5 0 2009 2011 2013 2015 2017 2019 2021 Unspecified Advanced Biofuels Biodiesel Cellulosic Biofuels Unspecified Biofuels/Corn Ethanol Source: EISA biofuels.5 Recent estimates from the Energy Information Administration suggest that the mandate to use 21 billion gallons of advanced biofuels by 2022 will not be met until at least five years later.4 If the projected volume is less than the minimum level established by the revised RFS2. For cellulosic biofuels.2 Twenty-one billion gallons of this is to come from “advanced biofuels. corn ethanol must achieve at least a 20 percent reduction in lifecycle emissions compared to gasoline.S. the requirement is at least 60 percent lower emissions. derived from a mix of both conventional biofuels and second-generation Figure 6. w orldwatch. The United States has supported ethanol since the late 1970s and currently has an extensive federal mandate and support system for biofuels. The EPA has the authority to lower these reduction requirements for any of the w w w. biofuels development.1 This is supported by a variety of additional federal and state incentives. The most important piece of legislation that affects domestic biofuels development is the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). the EPA must lower the volume requirements for cellulosic biofuels and may decide to reduce the targets for advanced biofuels and total renewable fuel. Biofuel Requirements Under the U. it mandates the production of 36 billion gallons of biofuels annually by 2022. White. based on the projected available volume for a given year. and Green . the RFS2 provides an overall incentive for producing cellulosic and other advanced biofuels. as well as global. Renewable Fuel Standard. including feedstock restrictions that help protect sensitive lands such as old-growth forests.7 In an effort to address climate change concerns. Environmental Protection Agency with assessing cellulosic production targets annually. the RFS2 requires that biofuels produced under the mandate meet specified greenhouse gas reduction targets.S. The revised RFS (known as RFS2) calls for the increased blending of biofuels into conventional motor fuels. and biodiesel and advanced biofuels must achieve a 50 percent reduction compared to the petroleum fuels they would replace.
and Green 27 petrr . refining. To report on these wide-ranging effects. using a 30-year timeframe would mean that corn ethanol produced using natural gas would emit 5 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than petroleum fuels. and soil quality.S. however. it appears that the RFS2 target of 15 billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2015 will be met largely with corn ethanol produced in “grandfathered” facilities. depending on the crop.15 The revised RFS also requires the EPA Administrator and the Secretaries of Agriculture and Energy to report periodically to Conwww. one of the areas that is likely to draw controversy is the timeframe over which reductions are considered. White. including feedstock production. It is important to note. which it proposed to do for advanced biofuels in its draft RFS2 implementation rules released in May 2009. and not to facilities that were online before the law went into effect.13 Although it is unclear which methodology will ultimately be used to determine greenhouse gas reductions for different biofuels.9 These greenhouse gas reductions must be calculated on the basis of a lifecycle analysis. Critics of the longer timeframe argue that greenhouse gas reductions are needed as soon as possible. water. and not several decades in the future. the EPA outlined methods for calculating these effects in draft rules and began seeking scientific peer reviews as well as public comments. these are not caps on production. According to EPA’s calculations.org gress on the environmental effects of the federal biofuels measures. and fuel use.18 The EPA proposed a few measures that would tighten the loophole for existing plants in May 2009. ethanol plants is estimated at 12 billion gallons annually.17 Because the capacity of current U. if corn ethanol continues to be profitable.11 Numerous scientific studies and a recent assessment from the state of California show that including land use changes could substantially alter the greenhouse gas profiles of many biofuels.10 The legislation also requires the EPA to consider indirect emissions. Therefore. it will be produced Red. that the RFS2 greenhouse gas reduction requirements apply to new ethanol plants. and over time land cleared for biofuel production can actually make positive contributions to carbon sequestration.19 Moreover. such as those from land use changes. the EPA will need to establish measurable assessment criteria.worldwatch. An American SUV marked for use of E85 ethanol fuel. The differences between the two periods are explained by the estimated greenhouse gas savings at the tailpipe when petroleum is displaced: a longer time period means more gallons are used and more carbon dioxide is avoided.Federal and State Biofuel Policies advanced biofuels by up to 10 percent.14 Using the longer 100-year time period minimizes the effect of land use changes such as deforestation because most carbon is emitted by land clearing. including effects on air. essentially creating a working definition of sustainable biofuels production. although it remains to be seen whether any of these will take effect. although the revised RFS sets minimum production requirements for renewable and advanced biofuels. without any required emissions reductions.16 The EPA Administrator must also undertake periodic reviews on existing technologies and the feasibility of meeting the targets established by the RFS2. But that same ethanol considered over a 100-year timeframe would put the emission changes at a 16 percent decrease. Emissions are gradually reduced over time.12 In early May 2009.
S. White. the credit provides a tax break to registered blenders for every gallon of pure ethanol blended into gasoline.org A Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researcher investigates the lignocellulose deconstruction of switchgrass. improvements to biofuel refining.S. in an effort to keep ethanol priced competitively with gasoline. creating a disincentive to U. blenders received the tax credit for blending imported biodiesel with even tiny amounts of petroleum diesel and then re-exporting it.01 per gallon of qualified ethanol through 2012. and improvements to gasification. authorizes loan guarantees for advanced biofuels research and commercialization.33 Other federal funding supports research into enzymes. valorem” tariff of 2.32 The previous year.31 In late 2008. and infrastructure through direct funding grants and loan guarantees. calls for the introduction of low-carbon w w w.S. development. Florida. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.30) In addition to biofuels mandates and tax credits. including the biodiesel tax credit which is now set at $1 a gallon through 2009.21 A related tax credit is the small ethanol producer credit of 10 cents per gallon for facilities that produce less than 60 million gallons per year. which could help the United States shift to more sustainable sources of biofuels from countries such as Brazil. the Department of Energy announced grants of more than $4 million to six universities for advanced ethanol research. the DOE announced funding for six ethanol companies of up to $385 million to bring cellulosic ethanol to commercial production.24 The tariff effectively reduces the amount of foreign ethanol that is imported into the country by raising the price of these fuels (a limited amount of tariff-exempt fuel is allowed in through the Caribbean Basin Initiative). The so-called “blender’s tax credit” (or production tax credit) is the most important federal support for ethanol after the RFS. Even though this additional production would not count toward the mandate. adopted a mandate in 2008 that requires all gasoline sold in the state to contain 9–10 percent ethanol by the end of 2010. the U.Federal and State Biofuel Policies above and beyond the 15-billion-gallon (and 20 percent greenhouse gas reduction) cap for 2015. was ended in 2008. for example. in March 2009 the European Union imposed a new tax on biodiesel imports.25 In early 2009.20 The VEETC was previously set at 51 cents per gallon but was lowered to 45 cents in the 2008 Farm Bill. for example.28 However. biofuel industry benefits from a 54-cent per gallon tariff on imported ethanol that is currently in place through 2010. w orldwatch. and Green Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory .35 California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard.23 In addition to these tax credits. federal policy provides support for biofuels research.5 percent on imported ethanol.29 (The “splash-and-dash” loophole.26 Biodiesel receives similar incentives. several members of Congress introduced a bill to lower the tariff.22 Another available credit—the cellulosic biofuel tax credit—allows producers to claim up to $1. blenders would still profit from the tax credit they receive under current law. by which U. production. established in 2007.34 These federal biofuel incentives are supplemented by state blending mandates and other incentives.27 There is also a small agri-biodiesel producer credit of 10 cents per gallon. as well as an “ad 28 Red. Known technically as the volumetric ethanol excise tax credit (VEETC) and currently effective through 2010.
state and federal mandates and incentives ensure that U. other proposed greenhouse gas emission reduction programs include a cap-and-trade program linked with the Western Climate Initiative. and Green 29 . feedstock transportation.39 Many cities and states also require their fleets or transport services to use particular kinds of fuels: so far.Federal and State Biofuel Policies Sidebar 5.36 (See Sidebar 5.37 Meanwhile. according to the Renewable Fuels Association. So far. 11 states have such mandates for ethanol. increases the number of high-ethanol-blend fueling stations. The LCFS requires analysis of the full lifecycle impacts of fuels. including direct effects such as farm inputs.S. including ethanol and biodiesel. and requires at least 50 percent of all transportation fuels consumed in region to be regionally produced. Source: See Endnote 36 for this section. ARB plans to develop and propose additional sustainability criteria—including environmental and socioeconomic variables—and argues that international cooperation and enforceable certification standards are essential. and achieving a 33 percent renewable energy mix. The standard also covers alternative vehicles such as electric vehicles and those running on compressed natural gas. including 11 states that are considering similar standards. based on the principle that a balanced mix of strategies is the best way to cut emissions by approximately 30 percent.38 Procurement preferences and purchase mandates are also a form of U.S. with separate yearly requirements for gasoline and diesel. fuels—including ethanol and biodiesel—into the state fuel supply. and the effects of the measure on the ethanol industry are unknown. California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) is part of a broader effort to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. www. expanding energy efficiency programs. the regulation covers only one sustainability factor: land use change. support to biofuels. The California Air Resources Board (ARB) staff will further evaluate the effects of land use changes by 2011 so these can be incorporated into the carbon measurements under the rule. although industry proponents have vowed to protest the results. which can be a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. The measure is projected to curb some 16–23 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent annually by 2020 and will require reductions starting in 2012. and combustion in vehicles. federal fleets are required to increase their consumption of alternative fuels by 2015. However. White.40 Together. The analysis will also eventually incorporate indirect effects such as land use changes. Under the EISA. California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard: A Model for National Policy? Proposed in 2007 and adopted in April 2009.) And Iowa has adopted a state-level Renewable Fuel Standard that requires 25 percent renewable fuels in the state by 2020. In addition to the LCFS. ARB also hopes the new LCFS will serve as a model for other jurisdictions. for example.worldwatch. California’s LCFS calls for staged reductions in the carbon intensity of transportation fuels of 10 percent by 2020. eight Midwestern states have adopted a regional biofuels promotion plan that spurs local production. refining and production. demand for biofuels will remain high—regardless of price and consumer choice.org Red.
and economic problems. the nation—and the world—could miss out on important opportunities for change for years to come. fuel supply.S. and (3) create a holistic energy policy across all transportation-related sectors. The big challenge for the United States now is to accelerate the transition to second-generation biofuels. mature technologies are struggling. Best-case scenarios aim for broadly available secondgeneration biofuels within 10 to 15 years. or take the opportunity to learn from past mistakes and rethink the role of biofuels for the future. support could be provided only for biofuels with lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions reductions of at least 50 percent relative to petroleum fuels. A related proposal that would also help moderate food prices is to tie the tax credit to the price of corn. with additional incentives provided for higher emission reductions. using existing economic instruments and other tools. and the global economic crisis are putting the United States at a crossroads in energy policy.org 30 Red. This continued support makes it difficult to jumpstart advanced technology solutions and diversify the U. But can the country reach its goal of 36 billion gallons of biofuels by 2022. w orldwatch. biofuel policies continue to provide incentives for corn ethanol. even though it is plagued with environmental.1 For example. there is no guarantee that these technologies will become attractive investments at a time when current. but in the interim U.S. Experts have suggested a range of solutions to bring advanced biofuels to market sooner. White. If the wrong decisions are made today.The Road Ahead: Policy Options for Sustainable U. social. such as tax credits for biofuels. Biofuels M ounting evidence of the pitfalls of first-generation biofuels. These are: (1) spur the rapid development of cellulosic and advanced biofuels. lowering it to zero w w w. growing pressure to address climate change. including rethinking the revised RFS mandate levels and requirements to avoid supporting increased corn ethanol. Even though the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) provides incentives for cellulosic and other advanced biofuels. (2) develop sustainability standards. and Green .S. Announcements made in the first half of 2009 about federal funding opportunities for advanced biofuels are a muchneeded step in the right direction but will not in themselves solve the fundamental problems. policy would make biofuel production more sustainable and ensure that the use of biofuels contributes to the global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions without sacrificing environmental or social standards. Another proposal is to tie existing support. and should be phased out systematically to free up support for second-generation fuels and processes.S. The country now faces a choice: continue with the current policies and hope for the best. 1. to the overall sustainability of a fuel. while also ensuring environmentally and socially sustainable growth? Three broad efforts in U. Spur the rapid development of cellulosic and other advanced biofuels that significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Several federal agencies. In October 2008. among other areas. Establishing these two elements would help strengthen the system and guarantee that bioRed.org . it requires minimum greenhouse gas emissions reductions from biofuels based on a complete lifecycle analysis. cropland. Although the agency has outlined ways to include land use effects in greenhouse gas estimates. Develop sustainability standards and make government support conditional on meeting these standards. Or. and Green 31 Recommendations for spurring rapid development of cellulosic and advanced biofuels: • Use existing and new economic instruments. are contemplating the role of sustainability standards for biofuels under the auspices of the Biomass Research and Development Board. efficient production. set a floor for government support that requires lifecycle reductions of at least 50 percent or better. with fuels that achieve deeper greenhouse gas emissions reductions eligible for greater support. the Board seeks to develop sustainability criteria.S. While the revised Renewable Fuel Standard does not directly acknowledge the need for sustainability standards. and phase out incentives for corn ethanol. that expanding the U.5 2. for example—are accounted for in calculations. • Lower or eliminate the ethanol import tariff for fuels that meet sustainability criteria. the plan does not envision mandatory requirements or a certification program. and economic viability.3 The same could be done on the federal level. for example.S. some observers have recommended eliminating or suspending the ethanol import tariff as a way to moderate pressure on domestic land resources and ethanol prices and spur the production and use of non-corn ethanol. The EPA released its proposed rules for implementing the revised RFS in early May 2009. and final rules were not expected before the end of the year at the earliest. in part because of concerns about whether indirect land use impacts should be viewed globally.4 There is evidence. They should also be flexible enough to accommodate future updates as scientific understanding of indirect effects improves. the Massachusetts Clean Energy Biofuels Act. ethanol supply to include more sugarcane ethanol imports from Brazil could reduce pressure on U. and indicators that will help determine best practices in agriculture and land use practices. For instance. • Revisit the Renewable Fuel Standard mandate to ensure that it will promote second-generation biofuels instead of propping up first-generation biofuels. Biofuels when corn prices reach a certain level.S.S. including the U. White. to spur development of advanced biofuels. benchmarks. and in part because of how other pressures on land—rising populations. including indirect effects.worldwatch. The EPA has clarified that the final rules must be transparent. • Base the tax credits for ethanol and biodiesel on performance. production base. Looking beyond the U. However. the Board released a National Biofuels Action Plan designed to promote interagency coordination and realize significant second-generation biofuels production within 15 years. such as the blending tax credits. The mandate also requires that biofuel production not harm the environment or natural resources. reduce the costs of corn. and provide greater climate benefits. some biofuels proponents have made it clear that they are opposed to including these measures. www. signed in July 2008.S.The Road Ahead: Policy Options for Sustainable U.6 According to the plan. exempts cellulosic ethanol from the state’s gasoline tax if it achieves a 60percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions relative to gasoline. based on the best available science. Departments of Energy and Agriculture. and include a clearly articulated methodology.2 This may help keep food and grain prices in check by moderating the demand for corn ethanol when prices are high but providing incentives when prices are low. Exemptions from other taxes could be made contingent on the use of cellulosic or other advanced biofuels that meet goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
transport fuels would be relying on a far more diverse energy market. such as production. Complementary policies include adopting ambitious national renewable energy targets and advanced feed-in laws that make it easier for small. and Green . supply.8 Sustainable production could also be recognized at the refinery level or even at the retail level. Compliance with the sodbuster and swampbuster programs. biomass. giving consumers a role in demanding cleaner and greener fuels. as discussed in Sidebar 4 (page 24). geothermal. responsive. By transitioning to electricity as an energy source for transportation. The new Biofuels Interagency Working Group. is six times greater than the world’s energy use. energy. flex-fuel vehicles. with the feedstocks identified in terms of percentage volume or a lifecycle greenhouse gas estimate. 3. of these resources. including those related to agriculture.S. But this narrow approach fails to situate biofuels as part of a larger transportation and energy system and may allow important opportunities to remain unexplored. and sustainability. The California Low Carbon Fuel Standard plans to address sustainability issues stemming from land use and may offer a model for lowering greenhouse gas emissions over time. Including biofuels in the programs developed under the recently established Office of Ecosystem Services and Markets could also help encourage more sustainable production.9 An electric transport system is not possible with the current electricity transmission system and requires a transition to a more flexible. it does not deal with the relative importance of biofuels in a renewable energy portfolio. and climate change. their long-term significance in U. announced in May 2009. Create a holistic energy policy across all transportation-related sectors.S. White. if not more. as well as those promoting national security. Biofuels fuels meet minimum criteria. w orldwatch. While the EISA touches on many diverse policy areas. • Create incentives for sustainable production of biofuel feedstocks in current and future farm support and other programs by making government support conditional on performance and compliance with sustainability standards. • Work with ongoing multi-stakeholder processes to establish internationally accepted sustainability standards and certification mechanisms for biofuels. and job creation. using biomass w w w. the environment. One specific policy option is to encourage biofuel producers and processors to adopt sustainable production and processing practices. wind. hydropower. and ocean power.7 Compliance with these two programs and with new ones developed specifically for feedstock crops could be recognized in this context. including solar. The amount of renewable energy in the world. • Acknowledge production of sustainable biofuels through labeling at the retail level. In the transport sector. or their role in a new energy economy. Biofuel production affects and is affected by a wide range of policies. is tasked with addressing the range of policy issues and obstacles related directly to biofuels. and pure electric vehicles are expected to perform even better due to highly efficient motors.org Recommendations for developing sustainability standards for biofuels: • Adopt a federal low-carbon fuel standard that reduces the carbon content of transportation fuels over time. is a requirement for farmers to qualify for direct payments under USDA regulations. which are designed to prevent grassland and wetland conversion. 32 Red. and every region of the world has at least one. clean energy producers to sell their surplus electricity into the grid. with individual producers rewarded for their participation or excluded from incentives if they do not participate. rural development. and smarter grid. Plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles (PHEV) emit 30–60 percent fewer emissions per mile compared to similar conventional vehicles. energy use. liquid biofuels can serve as a temporary bridge to a more efficient system based on electric vehicles and powered by renewable energy.10 And.The Road Ahead: Policy Options for Sustainable U.
better urban design. white. Aerial view of sugarcane fields on Maui.S. • Reconsider the best use of biofuels and biomass. • Increase investment in electric vehicle technologies. The country should also focus on improving public transit options and other transportation alternatives to further minimize fuel demand. and Green 33 . even though other biofuels might deliver much greater climate. White.The Road Ahead: Policy Options for Sustainable U. • Adopt ambitious national renewable energy targets and advanced feed-in laws that enable small producers to sell their surplus electricity into the grid at a fair price and set a carbon performance standard for electricity. Biofuels to provide electricity and heat rather than liquid transportation fuels offers clearer environmental benefits. looking specifically at lifecycle greenhouse gas studies on biomass used for electricity and heat. corn ethanol production have been felt in food and fuel prices. but any fuels that are used should be as sustainable as possible. Given the country’s current policy and economic structures. there is a large probability that corn ethanol will continue to dominate domestic biofuel production. www. and prospects are not good for suffi- cient sustained private investment in moresustainable alternatives in the absence of additional incentives. Improvements in vehicle efficiency are needed as well to reduce demand for fuels. Hawaii.worldwatch. environmental. rather than just more biofuels. electric/plug-in vehicles. and green path is to ensure that second-generation biofuels are developed quickly while avoiding the mistakes of the past.org Red. The challenge for a red. The experience of recent years has demonstrated the dangers of pushing blindly for increased biofuel production without considering the unintended consequences. and investments in good public transportation systems and rail. are a priority. The United States has a real opportunity to adjust course and ensure that clean and sustainable biofuels. including a national smart-grid to encourage vehicle-to-grid net metering and development of improved batteries. iofoto/stockxpert Recommendations for ensuring policy coherence across all transportation-related sectors: • Create a broad transportation policy that looks beyond biofuels to more-efficient vehicles. and social benefits. The costs of expanding U.S.
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7 biochemical platform. 14 defined.worldwatch. 13 biobutanol. 7 environmental impact of. 24 co-firing process. 15 biodiversity conservation. 11–12 production incentives. 13. 18 job creation from. 10. 19 water use. 32 biogas. 13 production by country. 17 climate impacts of. 24 B bagasse. 32 camelina. 14. 14 carbon dioxide. 15 Archer Daniels Midland. 17 reliance on. 17 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (2009). 6 cellulosic ethanol defined. 7. 12 blender’s tax credit. 24. 16 in feedstocks. 9–10 production process. 15. White. 17–18. 19 Chicago Carbon Exchange. 17 aquifers. 8 carbon credits. 19 biodiesel algae for. 15 evaluating fuel lifecycle. 28–29. 23 Asian grass.org Red. see second-generation biofuels agricultural crops.Index A advanced biofuels. 8 job creation from. 13–15 mitigating. 13 switchgrass and. and Green 43 . 13 greenhouse gas emissions and. 18. 7–8. 7 energy crops. 12 locations of refineries. 15 Algal Biofuels Roadmap. see feedstocks air pollution. 28 blue grass. 16 Brazil. 13–15 defined. 7–8 Biofuels Interagency Working Group. 7 environmental impacts. 25 biofuels climate impacts. 29 California Low Carbon Fuel Standard (2007). 17 fossil energy balance. 5 policy options. 13. 28 production increases. 7. 7. 16 environmental impact of. 20 production costs. 18 Biomass Research and Development Board. 18 Caribbean Basin Initiative. 22 biomass advanced biofuels from. 17 fossil energy balance. 24 carbon storage corn stover and. 22 Canada. 22 climate impacts of biofuels. 32–33 switchgrass and. 20 blend wall. 15 feedstocks. 13–15 evaluating fuel lifecycle. 9 Argonne National Laboratory. 25 coal. 16. 8 promise of. 22 carbon debt. 28 cellulose converting to biofuels. 7. 16 defined. 7 microalgae and. 28 Aquatic Species Program. 17. 28 C California Air Resources Board. 31 Biorefinery Assistance Program. 16 www. 22 Arkansas. 13 global production.
9–11 job creation from. 13 industry. 8. 9 production process. 13–15 first-generation biofuels. 7 G gammagrass. 18 on Renewable Fuel Standard. ethanol production and. 26–29 sugar cane. 26–27 implementation rules. 13–15 policy reporting requirements. 16 food costs and. 13 fossil fuels evaluating fuel lifecycle. 17 producing biofuels from. 7. 19 production subsidies and incentives. 20 policy requirements. 15 ethanol blending limit. 13 changing. 16 Energy Independence and Security Act (2007). 10–11. see also cellulosic ethanol. 24 Department of Energy (DOE) as funding source. 16 gasoline biofuels and. 7 water use. 17–18 combined heat-and-power (CHP) method.org . 16 energy crops. 5. 13–14. 17 greenhouse gas emissions and. 31 on blend levels. White. 7. corn ethanol biochemical process. 10 Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). 32 thermochemical process. 9. 26. 17. 7 sustainable production. 15 ethanol blending limit. 7 Fisher-Tropsch liquids (FTLs). 12 European Union biofuel production. 12 on microalgae costs. 10–11. 25 sustainability criteria. 13 MTBE additive. 19 economic impacts of corn and soybean production. 19 trade. 23 D deforestation. 19 food costs. w orldwatch. 18 Environmental Protection Agency biofuel policies. 27 E E. 19 production increases. 10–11 fossil energy balance. 17 energy cane. 9 44 Red. 8 import taxes. 12. 16 feedstocks. 28 on job creation. 27 second-generation biofuels. 19 fertilizers. 13–14. 32–33 energy balance. 31 esterification. 8 VEETC and. 20. 14 microalgae and. 24 fuel lifecycle. 16 carbon storage in. 19 defined. 23 energy crops. 13 transitioning. 18 corn ethanol economic impacts. 28 land use change study. 5. and Green w w w. 15 corn production and costs. 22 F feedstocks advanced biofuels and. 14 production process. 19 tariffs on. 24 Congressional Budget Office. 5. 13–15 evaluating fuel lifecycle. 9 evaluating fuel lifecycle. 15 environmental impacts. 28 thermochemical process. 15. 12 ethanol displacement. 28 water use. 13. 11–12 production increases. 27 production costs. 9–10 production process. 27 Denmark. 5. 13 locations of refineries. 7 ethanol. 24. 7. 12 electricity. 22 ethanol production and. 16 Council on Sustainable Biomass Production. 13–15 land use changes and. coli. 13. 27. 9–10 corn stover. 31 distiller’s grains. 13–14 first-generation biofuels environmental impacts. 15 of global recession. 17 on sustainability standards. greenhouse gases and. 10–11 fossil energy balance.Index Colorado. 12 on greenhouse gas reductions. 7 environmental impact of. 29–32 environmental impacts of biofuels. 9 land use changes and. 13.
11 Mississippi River. land use changes and. 15. 14–15 poplar trees. 18 S Sandia National Laboratory. 20 second-generation biofuels benefits. 14 prairie grasses. 7–8 H heating. 22 transportation sector and. 12 sugarcane ethanol M manure. 14. 16 population. 20 glycerin. 18 promise of biofuels. 14 POET. 22 Massachusetts Clean Energy Biofuels Act (2008).Index VEETC and. 17 Minnesota. greenhouse gases and. 11. 28 subsidies for ethanol production. 7 sustainability of. 14 policies and. 9 N National Biofuels Action Plan. 31 Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. 22 L land conservation. 17 pesticides and. 5. 13 policies on. 13 PHEV (plug-in hybrid-electric) vehicles. 29 Roundtable on Responsible Soy. 15 MTBE gasoline additive. 19 sodbuster program. 28 lignin. 31 requirements. 16 corn ethanol and.worldwatch. 22 O Oak Ridge National Laboratory. 14 feedstocks and. 31 population increases and. 14–15 nitrous oxide. 15 job creation and. 13–14 microalgae and. 19 I Iowa. 28 Georgia. biofuel contribution to. 6. 17–18 soybean production economic impacts. 23 corn ethanol production and. 26–27 reducing. 23 J jatropha. 16–20 fossil energy balance. 7 evaluating fuel lifecycle. 13 job creation from. 18 Solix Biofuels. 22–23 Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. White. 23 Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels. 13–14 no-till cultivation. Barack. 18 land use changes biofuel sustainability and. 33 hydrolysis. 24. 13 petroleum diesel biofuels and. 7 Gulf of Mexico. 25. 26 Renewable Fuels Association. 12 policy options for. 30–33 production process. 9 policies federal and state. 29. 22 R Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) background. 32 soil erosion. 14 Spain.org Red. 24. 5. 8. 17 greenhouse gas emissions advanced biofuels and. 17 splash-and-dash loophole. 32 phosphorus. 18. 26 climate impacts and. 27. 10–11 environmental impacts. 11. 15 Obama. 7. 20 Office of Ecosystem Services and Markets. 8 evaluating fuel lifecycle. 31 nitrogen. 15 oil palm. 14 microalgae. 24 www. 11–12 policy options. 31 meat consumption. 13 fertilizers and. 21–22 P pesticides. 21–25 technologies for. 5. 21–23 climate impact of. 22–23 GreenFuel Technologies. 5–6. and Green 45 . 32 Ogallala Aquifer. 26–29 for sustainable biofuels. 30–33 pollution. 22 grain sorghum.
19 sulfur dioxide. National Academy of Sciences. 7 46 Red.S. 28 U. 15. 14 University of Minnesota. 28 technologies for advanced biofuels. 28 T tariffs.org . 15 U. 5. 13 production costs. 18 on corn production. 16 wood chips. 16. 9–10 volumetric ethanol excise tax credit (VEETC). and Green w w w. 21–25 Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance. 29 wildlife conservation. 5–6. 18 Western Climate Initiative. 15. 18 willow trees. 26–27 policy options for. 30–33 of second-generation biofuels. 31 U. 17 switchgrass and. 21–22 federal/state policies on. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Conservation Reserve Program. White. 28 syngas. 24 W Washington. 16. 20. 22 U United States biofuel production. 23 swampbuster program. 12 water consumption. 32–33 transitioning fuels. 20. 18. 19 third-generation biofuels. 24 sustainability developing criteria.S. 24 switchgrass. 24 ethanol production. w orldwatch. 32 Sweden.Index greenhouse gas emissions and. 15. 17 transportation sector greenhouse gas emissions and. 28 tax credits. 15 microalgae and. Farm Bill (2008). 8–12 biomass usage. 15 V VeraSun. 19 thermochemical platform.S. 17 water quality corn ethanol production and. 19 University of California. 7 energy policy. 9 on sustainability standards.
2000 148: Nature’s Cornucopia: Our Stakes in Plant Diversity.org Red. 2001 On Food. 2002 159: Traveling Light: New Paths for International Tourism. 1999 144: Mind Over Matter: Recasting the Role of Materials in Our Lives. quantitative. 2003 166: Purchasing Power: Harnessing Institutional Procurement for People and the Planet. Women’s Welfare. Institutions. The Reports are written by members of the Worldwatch Institute research staff or outside specialists and are reviewed by experts unafﬁliated with Worldwatch. 1998 On Economics. 2008 172: Catch of the Day: Choosing Seafood for Healthier Oceans. 2000 149: Paper Cuts: Recovering the Paper Landscape. 1999 To see our complete list of Reports. White. Energy. 2007 171: Happier Meals: Rethinking the Global Meat Industry. 1999 142: Rocking the Boat: Conserving Fisheries and Protecting Jobs. 2008 175: Powering China’s Development: the Role of Renewable Energy. 2002 161: Correcting Gender Myopia: Gender Equity. 2007 169: Mainstreaming Renewable Energy in the 21st Century. 2000 150: Underfed and Overfed: The Global Epidemic of Malnutrition. 1998 140: Taking a Stand: Cultivating a New Relationship With the World’s Forests. 1998 141: Losing Strands in the Web of Life: Vertebrate Declines and the Conservation of Biological Diversity. 2007 165: Winged Messengers: The Decline of Birds. 2002 162: The Anatomy of Resource Wars. 1998 138: Rising Sun. 2001 151: Micropower: The Next Electrical Era.worldwatch.Other Worldwatch Reports Worldwatch Reports provide in-depth.org/taxonomy/term/40 www. Gathering Winds: Policies To Stabilize the Climate and Strengthen Economies. 2003 167: Sustainable Development for the Second World: Ukraine and the Nations in Transition. and Materials 179: Mitigating Climate Change Through Food and Land Use. and Security 177: Green Jobs: Working for People and the Environment. 2005 163: Home Grown: The Case for Local Food in a Global Market. 2007 168: Venture Capitalism for a Tropical Forest: Cocoa in the Mata Atlântica. and qualitative analysis of the major issues affecting prospects for a sustainable society. 2002 157: Hydrogen Futures: Toward a Sustainable Energy System. They are used as concise and authoritative references by governments. 2009 178: Low-Carbon Energy: A Roadmap. 2002 156: City Limits: Putting the Brakes on Sprawl. nongovernmental organizations. 2000 147: Reinventing Cities for People and the Planet. Water. 2008 173: Beyond Disasters: Creating Opportunities for Peace. 2003 164: Invoking the Spirit: Religion and Spirituality in the Quest for a Sustainable World. and educational institutions worldwide. and Urbanization 176: Farming Fish for the Future. and Green 47 . 2005 170: Liquid Assets: The Critical Need to Safeguard Freshwater Ecosytems. 2001 158: Unnatural Disasters. Population.worldwatch. 2004 160: Reading the Weathervane: Climate Policy From Rio to Johannesburg. 1999 145: Safeguarding the Health of Oceans. and the Environment. 2001 154: Deep Trouble: The Hidden Threat of Groundwater Pollution. visit www. 2003 153: Why Poison Ourselves: A Precautionary Approach to Synthetic Chemicals. On Climate Change. 1997 On Ecological and Human Health 174: Oceans in Peril: Protecting Marine Biodiversity.
Australian Conservation Foundation “This report is particularly timely. the single most important reference guide to climate change yet published. Worldchanging. 22 essays by experts on topics including: • • • • Biodiversity • Economics of Climate Change • Health Implications Cap and Trade • Green Jobs Carbon Tax • Technology Transfer Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) • Other Greenhouse Gases • Cities: Mitigation and Adaptation www. Co-Founder.worldwatch.” —Alex Steffen. The Perfect Storm Chapter 2. Table of Contents: Chapter 1. Using Land to Cool the Earth Chapter 4. It addresses climate change concerns and provides a wide range of options for tackling this multi-faceted problem. Environmental Chemist. Australia “State of the World 2009 is a very timely compendium of up-to-date thinking on climate change. This comprehensive guide conveys the profound. Sealing the Deal to Save the Climate Special Features: State of the World 2009 includes Climate Connections.org Plus a Quick-Reference Climate Change Guide and Glossary of 38 key terms for understanding climate change. long-term consequences of global warming for humanity and our planet and investigates a wide range of potential paths to change.org • Online: www. Harnessing Low-Carbon Energy on a Grand Scale Chapter 5. F09RWG . Safe Landing Chapter 3. University of Adelaide.” —Stephen Lincoln.org for information on all of our publications or to sign up for our e-newsletter.worldwatch.com “This report is a persuasive call to action.S.org • Available Now • $19.” —Ian Lowe.org Visit our website at www.worldwatch. including: new technologies. policy changes. Building Resilience Chapter 6. and finance—with the ultimate goal of mobilizing nations and citizens around the world to work together toward combating global warming before it’s too late.STATE OF TH E WOR LD 2009 Into a Warming World “State of the World 2009 is a research masterpiece. Executive Editor. consumption practices. 350." —Bill McKibben.95 plus shipping and handling O RD E R TODAY! Four Easy Ways to Order: • Phone: toll free 1-877-539-9946 within the U. or 1-301-747-2340 internationally • Fax: 1-301-567-9553 • E-mail: wwpub@worldwatch. President.
enough to displace about 5 percent of domestic gasoline consumption. White. Advanced biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol show promise as a way to overcome many of these problems and to mitigate climate change. chemical. First-generation biofuels also result in minimal. and green path—before it is too late.WO R L DWAT C H R E P O RT 180 Red. but decision makers must take the time to get biofuels right. But government mandates and other incentives envision a much larger role for U. The biofuels challenge facing the United States today is to ﬁnd new transportation and energy policies that take the country down a truly red. white. if any. and degrade soils.worldwatch. likely outweigh the beneﬁts. such as corn ethanol. Biofuels Ethanol demand in the United States is nearing 10 billion gallons per year. and water inputs and can pollute water.S. biofuels. Large-scale production depends on intensive energy. with a goal of reaching 36 billion gallons of use by 2022. reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. and Green: Transforming U. destroy wildlife habitat.org .S. www. This includes setting veriﬁable industry standards that identify more-sustainable production methods and guarantee improvements. and the increased demand for biofuels is contributing to rising food prices and deforestation worldwide. Recent experience has shown that the environmental costs of producing “ﬁrst-generation” biofuels.
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