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EPA finalizes RFS volumes for 2019 and biomass-based diesel volumes for 2020

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized a rule that establishes the required renewable fuel volumes under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program for 2019, and biomass-based diesel for 2020.

The key elements of the action are:

  • “Conventional” renewable fuel volumes, primarily met by corn ethanol, will be maintained at the implied 15-billion gallon target set by Congress for 2019.

  • Advanced biofuel volumes for 2019 will increase by 630 million gallons over the 2018 standard.

  • Cellulosic biofuel volumes for 2019 will increase by almost 130 million gallons over the 2018 standard.

  • Biomass-based diesel volumes for 2020 will increase by 330 million gallons over the standard for 2019.

Rfsbiomassvolumes_20192020

The Clean Air Act requires EPA to set annual RFS volumes of biofuels that must be used for transportation fuel for four categories of biofuels: total, advanced, cellulosic, and biomass-based diesel. EPA is using the tools provided by Congress to adjust the standards below the statutory targets based on current market realities. EPA implements the RFS program in consultation with the US Department of Agriculture and the US Department of Energy.

Reaction from the various stakeholders was mixed, with concerns generally expressed about small refinery waivers. Under the RFS program, a small refinery may be granted a temporary exemption from its annual Renewable Volume Obligations (RVOs) if it can demonstrate that compliance with the RVOs would cause the refinery to suffer disproportionate economic hardship.

The RFS regulations define a small refinery as one with an average crude oil input no greater than 75,000 barrels per day (bpd) crude in 2006. Additionally, the small refinery may not have an average aggregate daily crude oil throughput greater than 75,000 bpd in the most recent full calendar year prior to submitting a petition, and cannot be projected to exceed the 75,000 bpd threshold in the year or years for which it is seeking an exemption.

Brent Erickson, Executive Vice President of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization’s (BIO) Industrial and Environmental Section, said:

We congratulate EPA for finalizing the rule for the Renewable Fuel Standard’s 2019 volumes and Biomass-Based Diesel Volumes for 2020 on time and applaud the agency for increasing advanced and cellulosic biofuel volumes from 2018.

BIO is disappointed, however, that EPA missed this opportunity to reallocate gallons displaced from small refinery waivers, issued at the behest of the petroleum industry. From now on, EPA must take steps to ensure small refinery waivers are issued in accordance with the law, which states only in cases of disproportionate economic hardship. EPA also needs to approve new biofuel pathways and facility registrations to allow volumes of advanced and cellulosic biofuels to grow.

Iowa Corn Growers Association President Curt Mether said:

“While we’re pleased to see the EPA finalize numbers at the statutory target for corn-based ethanol, Iowa’s corn farmers want the EPA to stop granting unnecessary waivers to obligated parties and not to include those waivers in its formula for determining annual volumes as required under the RFS. This intentional omission effectively cuts ethanol demand and works against the goals of the RFS program to the detriment of motorists, our environment, and Iowa’s corn farmers.

Emily Skor, CEO of Growth Energy, said:

We are pleased to see the 2019 RVO numbers released on time and that they hold strong promise, with a 15-billion-gallon commitment to starch ethanol and 418 million gallons of cellulosic biofuels. But the latest EPA rule is also a missed opportunity to correctly account for billions of gallons of ethanol lost to refinery exemptions. Until these are addressed properly, we’re still taking two steps back for every step forward. The current Acting EPA Administrator, Andrew Wheeler, has a valuable opportunity to chart a new course for biofuels and rural America. To reverse the damage done by his predecessor, the EPA must follow the law and reallocate lost gallons, ensuring the ethanol targets set by Congress are actually met.

The National Biodiesel Board (NBB) criticized the ruling, saying that EPA is setting the advanced biofuel and biomass-based diesel volumes lower than what the agency acknowledges will be produced. Moreover, NBB said, the rule leaves open a backdoor to retroactively reduce required volumes through hardship exemptions.

EPA recognizes that the biodiesel and renewable diesel industry is producing fuel well above the annual volumes. The industry regularly fills 90 percent of the annual advanced biofuel requirement. Nevertheless, the agency continues to use its maximum waiver authority to set advanced biofuel requirements below attainable levels. The method is inconsistent with the RFS program’s purpose, which is to drive growth in production and use of advanced biofuels such as biodiesel.

—NBB CEO Donnell Rehagen

In the final rule, EPA states that it has not received small refinery exemption petitions for 2019 and therefore estimates zero gallons of exempted fuel in its RVO formula. The agency has estimated zero gallons every year since 2015, even though it retroactively exempted more than 24.5 billion gallons of fuel between 2015 and 2017. The agency’s own data shows that the retroactive small refinery exemptions reduced demand for biodiesel by more than 300 million gallons in 2018.

Comments

Engineer-Poet

A regulatory tug of war between "biofuel" interests demanding bigger markets and profits and petroleum refiners and marketers wanting less hassle.

Given the negligible net benefits of most of these "biofuels" and the damaging effect on crop and food prices, I'm with the refiners.

TM

I don't see biofuel as a sustainable long term solution, so I'm not disappointed to see the EPA's enthusiasm for biofuels wane.

In 50 yrs, I hope that tailpipes will be a rare sight.

Carl

I disagree that most biofuels have negligible net benefits.

The average carbon intensity of the approved renewable diesel fuels in California's LCFS is 30 g CO2e/MJ, which is over 70% reduction in WTW CO2 emissions.

https://www.greencarcongress.com/2018/11/20181115-rd.html

Engineer-Poet

Take those LCFS numbers with a truckload of salt, Carl.

Carl

What other data do you have regarding GHG emissions from biofuels E-P?

According to the latest version of Argonne National Laboratory's GREET model (https://www.greencarcongress.com/2018/10/20181012-greet.html), FT diesel from biomass has 88% lower WTW GHG emissions than fossil diesel (39 g/mile (FTD) vs. 320 g/mile ULSD)). That isn't really negligible, is it?

Engineer-Poet

The problem is that there's biomass and then there's biomass.  You can have a lot of hard-to-count GHG emissions from the leftover nitrogen on a biomass field that was planted in corn the previous year (both the upstream CO2 from the manufacture of ammonia and the N2O emissions from soil bacteria metabolizing it to nitrate), and how do you allocate the emissions to the corn stover in the current year?  There's even a goodly chunk of GHG emissions from collecting "no energy input" yard waste.

As we're learning with CH4 leaks from natural gas systems, just because you think something is low-emitting doesn't mean it truly is.  Only when you've got every significant detail pinned down (like nuclear) can you have high confidence in such numbers.

Carl

That may be true, but the GREET model is supposed to take all of those emission sources into account, at least as well as they're currently understood.

GREET has dozens of tabs within the model that address ancillary emissions from each feeedstock source. It even includes emissions generated from production of agriculture machinery.

Engineer-Poet

My point is that the GREET model is only as good as the assumptions which went into it, and some of those could be way off and we'd have no way to know it unless we went big into something and found that the results were way off the model projections.  That kind of mistake is hugely expensive and sometimes fatal for an entire society.  The adage "don't bet the rent" is as relevant today as it ever has been.

Carl

I completely agree. But by the same token, the assertion that most biofuels have negligible benefits is also based on assumptions which could be way off, isn't it?

Argonne National Laboratory has an extensive list of publications for data used in GREET (https://greet.es.anl.gov/list.php). Since GREET is updated yearly, the model incorporates data from the very latest research available.

Engineer-Poet
the assertion that most biofuels have negligible benefits is also based on assumptions which could be way off, isn't it?

When you have so much money tied up in the assertion that they are correct, the burden of proof should be on those who benefit, not on the skeptics.

This goes double when there are effects like the Gulf of Mexico dead zone and increased soil erosion which come directly from the over-production of grains and oilseeds for the sake of "biofuels".

Carl

When you have so much money tied up in the assertion that they are correct, the burden of proof should be on those who benefit, not on the skeptics.

The same can be said of any technologies or fuels that are outside the "business-as-usual" scenario of primarily continued fossil fuel use for transportation. We likely don't even have full understanding of future ramifications of fossil fuels as they increasingly come from harder-to-process feedstocks like tar sands, for example.

I was directly involved with federal and state forestry services' "prescribed burn" programs (controlled burning), mostly in the "smoke management" realm. When I was involved, over 20 million areas of biomass were intentionally burned each year for wildfire management purposes. That of course results in considerable emissions of GHG, PM, NOx, and many other pollutants, completely uncontrolled. That doesn't include the tens of millions of acres burned each year from unintentional wildfires.

I always though harvesting at least some of that biomass for fuel production should at least be considered. It may be far too expensive, or have other obstacles, but I personally think it should be looked at. The fuel loadings of forests need to be further reduced, IMHO.

Engineer-Poet
The same can be said of any technologies or fuels that are outside the "business-as-usual" scenario of primarily continued fossil fuel use for transportation.

And inside; look how long it took to get accurate measurements of methane leakage from our natural gas systems!  The problem is, large errors in the values for systems that are currently small can be hidden by uncertainties in the values of the same emissions from bigger sources.  People are still making the same mistakes with PV and wind power, failing to account for the escalating integration costs and falling benefits as the RE share goes up.  And then we have outright fraudsters like Mark Z. Jacobson....

I always though harvesting at least some of that biomass for fuel production should at least be considered.

The cost is high and unless you have someone paying for biomass removal you're not going to be able to get it done.  Whole dead trees might have enough market value to pay for cutting them.

The fuel loadings of forests need to be further reduced, IMHO.

Perhaps too hard to do on slopes.  Frank Shu has a fascinating take on what to do with beetle-killed timber, though I believe his approach is perhaps too narrow.  In the case of California with its cyclic rains, droughts and fires, why not take a biological approach?  Goats have notoriously broad appetites and don't mind slopes, so running goats to consume the smaller brush might be an edible solution to the excess fuels problem.  Americans do seem to like exotic cheeses, and perhaps goats can be trained to use robotic dairies as cows do.  If we can't find sufficient domestic markets for goat meat, I gather that the Middle East and Africa are fond of the product.

SJC

There was a bid requested to thin the bark beetle trees decades ago, no bidders. With more advanced techniques it might be possible, oil then was under $20 per barrel.

Carl

@E-P,

The harvesting of forest biomass in lieu of, or in addition to, prescribed burning was just a thought. It's certainly possible that the cost of collecting the biomass may be too high.

I'm not clear about your position on biofuels however. You seem to be adamantly opposed to large-scale biofuel implementation here, yet you seem to support it in a comment you made earlier this year:

Only replacing 30% of the petroleum used in the USA is setting the sights far too low. A billion dry tons of biomass can make at least 800 million tons of methanol (probably more), which comes to over 260 billion gallons. Total US gasoline consumption, which is about 45% of all US petroleum consumed, is only about 140 billion GPY. Between PHEVs and methanol you could replace 100% of motor fuel and 70% or more of total petroleum....

https://www.greencarcongress.com/2018/01/20180124-biomass.html

Can you clarify your position in this regard?

Engineer-Poet

I'm of the opinion that the terrain makes harvesting by conventional means† somewhere between uneconomic and impossible in much of the parts of California where fire is a problem.  My projections on feasible biofuels production are based on the feedstock figures of the NREL billion-ton studies, and going off in a totally different direction on the conversion process.

† Unconventional means are, of course, always prone to someone inventing them and upsetting the applecart.

HarveyD

Wrong solution for a major worldwide pollution/GHGs problem.

We have created the problem with our huge inefficient ICEVs. We have to switch to lighter more efficient vehicles to reduce the use of bio-fossil fuels and not wait until the initial purchase cost of electrified vehicles is the same or lower than our current ICEV monsters.

Secondly, we have to use more electrified (school and city) buses, trains, trucks for (cleaner more efficient) people and cargo transportation.

Thirdly, we have to change the building codes the reduce pollution/GHGs and the energy used for heating and cooling, even if initial building cost is 5% to 10% higher.

Last but not least, we have to change our diet, eat less beef, to reduce our individual pollution/GHGs foot print. Alternatively, change the feed we have been giving our meat/milk producing bovine the reduce methane pollution and GHGs.

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