The Environmental and Energy Study Institute held a discussion between congressional staff on key hurdles to overcome in the areas of biofuel feedstocks, infrastructure, conversion technologies, and distribution. The last several months have been good for the development of biofuels. The passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-58) spurred the development of biofuels. Currently there are 113 ethanol and 105 biodiesel plants across the country. Still biofuels only make up a small fraction of the total US transportation fuel market, biofuels capacity is only 6.5 billion gallons per year. There appears to be broad-based support for biofuels to become a significant part of our fuel mix. But the larger question facing policymakers and the industry is what will it take for these biofuels to become a larger part of the transportation fuel market?
The oil industry began in the mid-1800s and has developed an efficient, opportunistic, and integrated system from discovery to consumption of petroleum products. The ability of biofuels to allow the public to fill up its cars with inexpensive fuel, while providing jobs, protecting the environment, reducing our reliance on oil and competing in a low carbon world, will only happen through the same strategic adaptation of the current system.
Speakers discussed several issues related to some of the barriers faced by an expanding biofuels market. Short overviews were given before a period of ‘Question & Answers’ in an open discussion format.
New technologies only become staples of our everyday lives through investments in considerable research, demonstration, deployment and commercialization. The creation of a biofuels infrastructure means adapting an agriculture system developed over decades for a well established set of crops – the confines of existing equipment, harvesting techniques, and systems for transportation, are limitations that need to be overcome for this new bioeconomy. A greatly expanded bioeconomy will require diversifying feedstocks and conversion technologies, which also will garner greater support for biofuels from the environmental community and increase participation from a wider spectrum of farmers and foresters. Furthermore, to penetrate the transportation market, which is currently 97 percent dependent on petroleum, biofuels distribution systems will need to be flexible and compatible with current transportation systems.
Click for "Contribution of the Ethanol Industry to the Economy of the United States" as prepared for the Renewable Fuels Association.