Rentech announced the closing of its advanced biofuels demonstration plant in Colorado this week, saying that it did not expect markets for alternative energy in the U.S. to improve "within the next several years." Meanwhile, biofuel opponents demonstrated their resolve to make this so in Congressional testimony, new legislation, and litigation this week.

Rentech, Inc. announced its decision to shutter its Colorado-based advanced biofuel demonstration project on February 28. The plant had successfully produced synthetic jet fuel and diesel from biomass, and had accumulated more than 13,000 hours of production experience using its advanced gasification processes. The positions of 65 employees and contractors will be eliminated as a result. In a press release, the company said "it does not expect the market opportunity for alternative energy to improve materially in the United States within the next several years." For additional background on Rentech’s advanced biofuel research, development, and technology, see this March 1 article in Biofuel’s Digest .

Underscoring Rentech’s point (although Rentech was producing drop-in biofuels, not ethanol), the House Science Committee, Subcommittee on Environment held a hearing February 26 to receive testimony from critics of the EPA’s 2011 decision to allow 15 percent blends of ethanol and gasoline to be used in vehicles made since 2001. In a press release , Subcommittee Vice Chairman Chris Stewart (R-UT) said: "Unfortunately, the more E15 is studied, the more concerns are identified. In addition to potential widespread impacts on vehicle engines, EPA has led a haphazard transition to E15 usage marked by regulatory confusion, bungled implementation, and a lack of consumer education." The Subcommittee received testimony from the President and CEO of the American Automobile Association (AAA); the Vice President, Government Relations, American Motorcyclist Association (AMA); and a member of the Board of Directors of the Coordinating Research Council (CRC). The testimony can be found here .

The witnesses discussed draft legislation authored by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) , which, according to the press release, "would require that EPA contract with the National Academy of Sciences to assess the state of the science regarding E15, including research needs, gaps in understanding, recent testing, and consumer education efforts."

On February 14, Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS) and David Vitter (R-LA) introduced legislation (S. 344) which, according to their press release , would "block an increase in the amount of ethanol that can be blended with gasoline. The bill would overturn Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) waivers that allowed gasoline containing 15 percent ethanol (E15) to be used for many passenger cars and light trucks." They say (despite extensive testing by the EPA and DOE) "the higher blend of ethanol has been found to cause engine damage, reduce fuel efficiency, and contribute to higher corn prices and rising food costs for American consumers. The Wicker-Vitter bill would prohibit the EPA Administrator from granting any waiver for a blend above 10 percent ethanol and would repeal the previous waivers."

In the meantime, The Hill reported February 21 that "a coalition of industry groups asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday to reconsider a lower court’s finding in favor of the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2011 decision to allow sales of the high-ethanol fuel blend known as E15. In a petition to the High Court, the American Petroleum Institute (API) and several groups representing the food industry are seeking to overturn January’s ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The appellate court sided with EPA’s permitting the sale of E15 – gasoline with 15 percent ethanol, rather than the standard 10-percent blend – for cars made after 2001."