R.F.A.: Ethanol 'leading renewable fuel alternative'

by Bryan Salvage
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WASHINGTON – On Dec. 31, the Renewable Fuels Association (R.F.A.) reviewed the decade that saw ethanol emerge as what it describes as “the leading renewable fuel alternative to our dependence on foreign oil.”

President George W. Bush announced several months after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks the U.S. would break its addiction to oil, and Americans then knew national security was now linked to energy security and the consequence of inaction was now tangible, R.F.A. said.

The past decade was truly the era when biofuels, such as ethanol, came of age, R.F.A. said. From just 1.4 billion gallons of production in 1999, the U.S. ethanol industry produced 10.6 billion gallons in 2008. Ethanol is now blended in more than 80% of every gallon of U.S. motor fuel, and ethanol blends are sold throughout the U.S.

In January 2000, there were only 54 ethanol plants in the U.S. Nine years later, there are more than 200 plants in 26 states, with more under construction. The ethanol industry supports almost half a million jobs in the U.S. and contributes to the coffers of every level of government, generating an estimated $12 billion in federal tax revenues and $9 billion in state and local revenues in 2008, R.FA. relays.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 created a Renewable Fuel Standard (R.F.S.) that requires refiners to use an increasing percentage of renewable fuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel in their fuel mix, as well as creating new incentives for ethanol production from sugar, cellulose and other on-traditional feedstocks. Building on this legislation, the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act, required the use of 9 billion gallons of renewable fuel in 2008, growing to more than 15 billion gallons in 2012 and 36 billion gallons by 2022.

American ethanol reduces oil imports by more than 300 million barrels a year, making the U.S. less dependent on OPEC and unfriendly governments from unstable parts of the world, R.F.A. said. And ethanol diminishes the dangers of climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 61% compared to gasoline, it added.

According to a survey compiled by Argonne National Laboratories, covering the years 2001 through 2006, the nation’s ethanol biorefineries reduced their water consumption by 26.6%, their use of electricity by 15.7%, and their total use of energy by 21.8%. With new technologies such as heat fermentation and fractionization, the industry is becoming even more efficient, while increasing the value of its co-products, such as the 27 million tons of high-quality livestock feed produced in 2008.

Meanwhile, a new cellulosic ethanol industry is emerging, with biorefineries producing fuels from new feedstocks, including corn stalks, sugar wastes, wood chips, wheat straw and even garbage.

“Here in the U.S., we need to break through the 10% blend wall and move on to blends of 12%, 13% and, eventually, 15% and beyond, while expanding the vehicle fleet and blender pump infrastructure for E85,” R.F.A. said.

The American Meat Institute (A.M.I.) firmly supports expanding non-feed source biofuels and believes resources should be focused on that expansion, rather than on the promotion of a blend increase – which will only benefit corn-based ethanol and will most assuredly exacerbate the economic repercussions the food industry has already experienced as a result of corn-based ethanol mandates, tax credits and import tariffs, Dave Ray, A.M.I. vice-president, public affairs, told MEATPOULTRY.com.

“We oppose any efforts to alter the current regulatory restrictions on introducing mid-level blends into commerce until the completion of independent, rigorous and verifiable testing that can provide a clear understanding of the impacts such a change would have on consumers and the food-supply chain,” Mr. Ray added.

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