EPA boosts production goal for advanced, cellulosic biofuels by more than a third

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) boosted its 2012 goals for production of non-corn-based biofuels by about 36 percent, reflecting the federal government's efforts to both cut its dependency on foreign oil and find alternatives to corn- and alcohol-based fuels.

The EPA boosted its production goal for advanced biofuels, whose feedstocks range from sugarcane ethanol to algae, by 48 percent, while increasing its goal for cellulosic biofuels, or biofuels produced from grasses, wood and plants, by 34 percent. Production of biomass-based biodiesel is set to rise 25 percent next year, according to the EPA.

The EPA also reiterated its goal set in June to boost renewable fuel production next year by 9 percent to 15.2 billion gallons, or 9.2 percent of total fuel production. Those numbers are up from the 13.95 billion gallons, or 8 percent of the fuel-production total, that the EPA set for 2011.

Annual increases in the EPA's renewable-fuel production guidelines are in response to the Renewable Fuel Standard 2 (RFS2) and 2007's Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA), which in part set a U.S. production goal of 36 billion annual gallons of renewable fuel by 2022.

What the new goals mean for the environment is debatable, given the issues surrounding the production of biofuels such as corn ethanol. Supporters say more ethanol production lessens domestic dependency on foreign oil and creates more farming jobs. But many environmentalists, academic researchers and economists have questioned using corn as a fuel feedstock, citing both spikes in corn prices that at times have exacerbated worldwide shortages of many grain-based foods, and environmental concerns related to potential waterway contamination from fertilizer and additional water and electricity requirements for corn production.

Some of these issues may be mitigated by more production of second-generation ethanol from waste material, algae and other feedstocks instead of corn. Pressures to change are coming from all sides. Earlier this week, the United States Congress decided against extending corn-based ethanol subsidies in a move that's drawn praise from environmental groups and taxpayer advocates.

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EPA Finalizes 2012 Renewable Fuel Standards
Release Date: 12/27/2011

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today finalized the 2012 percentage standards for four fuel categories that are part of the agency's Renewable Fuel Standard program (RFS2). EPA continues to support greater use of renewable fuels within the transportation sector every year through the RFS2 program, which encourages innovation, strengthens American energy security, and decreases greenhouse gas pollution.

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) established the RFS2 program and the annual renewable fuel volume targets, which steadily increase to an overall level of 36 billion gallons in 2022. To achieve these volumes, EPA calculates a percentage-based standard for the following year. Based on the standard, each refiner and importer determines the minimum volume of renewable fuel that it must ensure is used in its transportation fuel.

The final 2012 overall volumes and standards are:

Biomass-based diesel (1.0 billion gallons; 0.91 percent)
Advanced biofuels (2.0 billion gallons; 1.21 percent)
Cellulosic biofuels (8.65 million gallons; 0.006 percent)
Total renewable fuels (15.2 billion gallons; 9.23 percent)

Last spring EPA had proposed a volume requirement of 1.28 billion gallons for biomass-based diesel for 2013. EISA specifies a one billion gallon minimum volume requirement for that category for 2013 and beyond, but enables EPA to increase the volume requirement after consideration of a variety of environmental, market, and energy-related factors. EPA is continuing to evaluate the many comments from stakeholders on the proposed biomass based diesel volume for 2013 and will take final action next year.

Overall, EPA's RFS2 program encourages greater use of renewable fuels, including advanced biofuels. For 2012, the program is implementing EISA's requirement to blend more than 1.25 billion gallons of renewable fuels over the amount mandated for 2011.

More information on the standards and regulations:

More information on renewable fuels:

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