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Iowa Senator Calls for 60B-Gallon Renewable Fuels Standard by 2030

11 May 2006

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today called for a renewable fuels standard (RFS) of 60 billion gallons per year by 2030 to accelerate the use of ethanol and biodiesel; for far greater availability of E85 pumps; and for mandated increases in the production of flex-fuel vehicles by automakers to ensure that nearly every new vehicle made will be flex-fuel capable within 10 years.

If three Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers are correct in their conclusions recently published in a new study, the bulk of the ethanol component of such an RFS will have to come from cellulosic feedstock, not corn. Their results show that fulfilling even a 5% national ethanol standard (E5) would of necessity require at least one-third of the ethanol be derived from cellulose. For an E20 standard (20%), the ratio would flip to 79% cellulosic, 21% corn-based.

Ethanol Required to Meet various Ethanol-Gasoline Blend levels at 2001 consumption levela
  Billion liters/year
Fuelb Required volume of blend Required ethanol Corn ethanolc Ethanol from other sources

a From CMU study, “Modeling Switchgrass Derived Cellulosic Ethanol Distribution in the United States”. Base year is 2001, gasoline consumption was 490 billion L of which 6 billion L was ethanol.
b HHV for gasoline (35 MJ/L) and ethanol (23 MJ/L) were used for the calculations.
c A 19-billion liter limit assumed on corn ethanol due to DDGS market limit. (See more below). If new markets or new products are developed, this could rise.
E5 500 27 19 8
E10 510 49 19 30
E20 530 110 19 87
E85 680 580 19 560
E100 730 730 19 710

Harkin’s RFS. Harkin’s plan calls for 30 billion gallons (114 billion liters) of ethanol and biodiesel in the US motor vehicle fuel supply by 2020, and then doubling that quantity over the following ten years to 60 billion gallons (227 billion liters) by 2030. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 establishes an RFS of 7.5 billion gallons (28 billion liters) by 2012.

Harkin’s plan also would require large oil companies to install E85 pumps at their stations, increasing by five percentage points annually over the next 10 years, resulting in approximately 25% percent of all gasoline stations nationwide having E85 pumps available within a decade.

Another provision directs automakers to increase flex-fuel vehicle production in ten percentage-point increments annually, until nearly all vehicles sold in the US are FFVs within 10 years. Currently, flex-fuel vehicles make up only about 2% of vehicles on the road today.

Harkin plans on introducing a legislative package next week containing the proposals he announced today.

Two days prior to his announcement of the RFS plan, Harkin and four other farm-belt Senators—Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tim Johnson (D-SD) and Barack Obama (D-IL)—sent a letter to President Bush opposing the President’s recent focus on suspending the $0.54 per gallon ethanol tariff and waiving fuel quality standards in an attempt to lower gasoline prices.

Production and Distribution. According to the Renewable Fuels Association, fuel ethanol production in the US in 2005 reached 3.9 billion gallons. Also according to the RFA, the US fuel ethanol industry has a current production capacity of 4.486 billion gallons per year. New plants and expansions to existing plants will bump that capacity up to a total capacity of 6.715 billion gallons per year, the vast majority of that from corn.

However, according to the just-published study by three Carnegie Mellon University researchers,“Modeling Switchgrass Derived Cellulosic Ethanol Distribution in the United States,” the corn-based ethanol component of rising blend mandates may top out at around 5 billion gallons (19 billion liters in the study) due to market constraints and distribution issues.

Corn ethanol production has limits. Corn ethanol production produces a number of coproducts: wet milling—starch, sweeteners, gluten feed, and meal, along with corn oil and dry milling—distiller’s dried grains with solubles (DDGS).

These coproducts offset some of the ethanol production costs. Assuming a ceiling for corn ethanol production, due to market saturation of one or more of the coproducts, another source of ethanol will be required to meet the high level demands...

Furthermore, in modeling out the distribution of corn-based ethanol from the Midwest (assuming a 19-billion liter cap), the team found only 82% of the metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) received their required ethanol with an E5 mandate, and that 45 of the 271 MSAs received no ethanol at all.

One of the key problems that needs to be addressed, assuming sufficient supply of corn- and cellulose-based ethanol, is the distribution infrastructure.

Our results suggest that corn and cellulosic ethanol—at least in the short run—can be produced and distributed at a modest premium to gasoline distribution costs and provide domestic economic, environmental and energy security benefits.

However, the total infrastructure requirements, not the unit costs, are problematic. A key issue is the geographic relocation from refineries on the coasts to facilities in the interior of the United States....

...for both cost and freight efficiency reasons, pipelines become important. But we will then be faced with the tough short-term policy decision of whether to build almost $25 billion of ethanol pipelines just to make petroleum pipelines obsolete in the long-term.


May 11, 2006 in Biodiesel, Ethanol, Policy | Permalink | Comments (21) | TrackBack (0)


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Well and good but let's make that 2007.

Butanol, please. Then we don't need to buy all new vehicles.

Cervus, thanks for the link. Butanol looks cool.

I wonder how much effort would be needed to redirect the ethanol effort towards butanol?

How would public opinion flow, would the authority of the DOE be undermined, which of the ethanol lobby groups would be willing to support butanol.

does butanol require support? if they can make butanol for $1/gallon out of waste whey, they should have no difficulty carving a niche in the market on their own.

how many steps away are we from claims that ethanol bills are just midwest pork?

Would somebody plz tell me why bioD is getting the short stick...esp when ethanol can sub for methanol in bioDs processing? Diesel runs this planet today and for the foreseeable future?

if bioD is generally given less coverage, it could be because americans still have a bad memory of diesel.

or maybe because the tech for bioD has been worked out and this site mostly discusses technology.

or maybe because bioD can only really be made from captive crops, whereas butanol and ethanol can be made from waste products.

or maybe it is just a matter of your perception. every week, we see bioD news posts here. how does that translate into short stick?

I think the point is to find some kind of biofuel that can be used in conventional engines (or flex fuel versions). The exact fuel does not matter: ethanol, butanol, biodiesel, whatever, as long as it is easy (and safe) to produce, refine, transport and handle.

Then, you use it in fuel efficient vehicles: small ones, hybrides, PHEVs etc.. ... whatever ...

Or else, we wait for a better battery / direct electrical storage technology.

The main thing is that you won't be able to go around in 16 mpg vehicles if you have to grow the feedstock.
[ Nor should you need to. ]

I wonder how much effort would be needed to redirect the ethanol effort towards butanol?

If the ethanol were being made by a version of Fischer-Tropsch (as the Pearson process does, for example), then there may be little that would need to be done. FT alcohol production naturally produces a mixture that can be biased toward larger chain length. Of course, they can also make fuels other than alcohols.

FT biomass processes potentially use all the carbon in the feedstock, including the carbon in hemicellulose and lignin, so they potentially have higher yield than enzymatic procsses and can be more forgiving of variations in feedstock composition and quality.

Biodiesl can only be made from captive crops???? You do understand that BD is made by thousands of people every day from waste vegetable oil. There are even medium scale refineries that do this too. I think that "Waste Vegetable Oil" does indeed qualify as "waste".

I do agree that there are many posts here about BD. Just yesterday, the day before, etc... Mostly about new refineries coming online.

Chingy, the vegetable oil argument is not valid. At the moment, a few are using this "waste" oil to power their big diesel trucks. If everyone with a diesel converts to waste vegetable oil, the supply would dry up pretty quickly. Then your truck would be competing with McDonalds, for the virgin (not waste) vegetable oil. What would happen to the prices, and supples, then? The Mcdonalds dollar menus would probably go up to ten dollars.

I have wondered also, why butanol has not been promoted more. Or DME in for diesel, but I understand it requires a much different storage/delivery system in a diesel. But any and all of these ideas should be only a stop gap effort until better batteries, and the resultant better electric vehicles, are produced for the majority of personal transportation in this world. Growing biofuels to feed our vehicles will ultimately conflict with our need to grow food to feed our bodies. Unless, by some miracle, the worlds population growth suddenly stops, and starts declining. But I dont think anyone sees that happening!

The whole idea is to use a mix of solutions. All waste oil is not being used today so we start with that. There is alot of farm waste that is just plowed under that can be used to make ethenol. Corn is a poor way to get ethonol, just about everyone except the pres knows that, but switchgrass and waste could make a real dent in our usage.

Add regular and plug in hybrids and we can cut down our imported fuel use greatly. There is no one solution, we need to use all of the good solutions.


A few weeks ago I got in contact with Dan Ramey. He says he's finally been able to attract private investment in his process, so hopefully that will speed things up. But the fact of the matter is that the technology is still in an embryonic state. Ethanol has a huge head start. But he also said that cellulosic butanol is also viable. His microbes can digest anything that can be used for ethanol.

Mark: The Global Baby Bust. The world's population is ageing at an incredible rate. We'll top out around nine billion. Russia's own population is decreasing by 750,000 per year.

It seems that the economic problems population decline will cause will outweigh the benefits.

"Then your truck would be competing with McDonalds"
That's a lame argument! Any diesel engine can run a up to a 20% blend
with no modification. And probably up to 50% with only software change
to engine code.
Therefore there is some optimum point between zero and 100%
This is a link to an experiment where they took various alcohols, blended them with gasoline and tested the resulting fuels for performance.

A company in new zealand just announced theyve sucessfully brewed biodiesel from sewage plant algae. Theyre building a million liter/year plan as proof of concept...,2106,3665147a7693,00.html

yay for new zealand and Mr. Ramsey.

these projects both demonstrate that research and development require funding (Ramsey got $600,000 from the DOE) but subsidizing the product itself should be avoided.

once a sucessful technology has been developed, it won't need subsidies. subsidizing less competitive technologies prevents or slows the development of more successful ones.

of course, getting rid of anti-competitive practices favored by lobbyists such as hidden subsidies for oil (read: most international military action in the last 30 yrs, continuing to ignore economic impact of pollution, other bleeding-heart liberal comments) would help, but will obviously never happen.

Ironic, they could sell the Hydrogen to the oil refiners for catalytic cracking. Either that or upgrading Kerogen (from Oil Shale) Extra Heavy oil (Venezuelan, Russian),or Bitumen (Tar sands).
On the othr hand, Methane could lose some of its market as a Hydrogen source. How expensive and abundant in quantity for the co-production of Hydrogen in this process will help deternine the arrival of Alternative fuels/green energy powered economy.

Mark says: "Unless, by some miracle, the worlds population growth suddenly stops, and starts declining. But I dont think anyone sees that happening!"

I agree with Cervus. That should be a pretty easy "miracle". The percentage growth rate for population peaked in the 60s and the largest absolute population increase was in 1989. see -

Sometime in the middle of this century the population of the world will peak and then will begin to decline.

Besides Russia, there are are many other countries already losing population.. Hungary, Poland, Germany etc... The latest country to join this list is Japan which declined in population for the first time last year. China will peak sometime around 2030.

There is plenty of room for both biofuels and food. However, I don't think that corn - at least not the current version of corn - is the correct crop for ethanol.

Butanol, please. Then we don't need to buy all new vehicles.

Well, many (most?!) autos in the corn belt area are already flex-fuel and can burn E85 already. If this legislation passed, you might see either (a) the legislature pass a higher requirement for the production of flex fuel vehicles, or (b) the markets follow that direction anyway, particularly if it's cheaper for the consumers to fill up on Exx instead of E0.

Shaun...Ill stick with many bioD commercials has GM etal/ADM mentioned here? ZERO...shit the Air Force is testin it in B52s.

____Use sweet sorghum for alcohol (preferably butanol) production. 700-800 gallons per acre vs 300-400 gallons per acre for corn. Double the production. Sorghum will also use less water, but you will need to provide a winter cover crop rotate with one that is nitrogen fixing.
____Eventually, large lined algae pools spread over the deserts of western US feeding off of partially processed sewage water will yield 5,000 to 20,000 gallons of oil per acre. That would push us towards sustainable energy independence.

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