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|
|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.
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.
“Modeling Switchgrass Derived Cellulosic Ethanol Distribution in the United States”; William R. Morrow, W. Michael Griffin, and H. Scott Matthews; Environ. Sci. Technol.; 2006; 40(9) pp 2877 - 2886; (Policy Analysis) DOI: 10.1021/es048296m