The Biobased and Renewable Products Advocacy Group (BRAG) helps members develop and bring to market their innovative biobased and renewable chemical products through insightful policy and regulatory advocacy. BRAG is managed by B&C® Consortia Management, L.L.C., an affiliate of Bergeson & Campbell, P.C.

By Kathleen M. Roberts

On July 26, 2017, the Farewell to Unnecessary Energy Lifelines Reform Act of 2017 or FUEL Reform Act (H.R. 3419) was introduced in the House of Representatives by Representative Andy Biggs (R-AZ).  The bill would eliminate the following energy subsidies in Title IX of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002:

  • Biobased Markets Program;
  • Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical, and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program;
  • Repowering Assistance Program;
  • Biorefinery Program for Advanced Biofuels;
  • Biodiesel Fuel Education Program;
  • Rural Energy for America Program;
  • Biomass Research and Development Initiative;
  • Feedstock Flexibility Program for Bioenergy Producers;
  • Biomass Crop Assistance Program; and
  • Community Wood Energy Program.
The bill, which is co-sponsored by Representatives Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Trent Franks, (R-AZ), Walter Jones (R-NC), and Jim Jordan (R-OH), was referred to the Committees on Agriculture; Oversight and Government Reform; and Science, Space, and Technology.

 

By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.

In a paper forthcoming in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Iowa State researchers demonstrate that their tractable multi-market equilibrium model designed to evaluate alternative biofuel policies confirms that the current RFS program benefits the agriculture sector, and leads to overall welfare gains for the U.S.  The model considers biodiesel and ethanol markets and is simulated to analyze alternative scenarios, including the repeal of all RFS mandates, the 2015 level of mandates, and the projected 2022 RFS mandates.  The analysis shows that the U.S. benefited from lower gasoline, crude oil, and crude oil import prices.  Researchers estimated a welfare gain of $2.6 billion to the U.S. from the RFS program, primarily due to the impact of the policies on trade.  
 
Additionally, the analysis predicts that full implementation of the 2022 statutory mandates will be costly and produce limited welfare gains, stating that the agricultural terms of trade are a significant contribution to the RFS generating a positive impact.  To compensate for this, researchers recommend the mandate for corn-based ethanol production expand beyond the 15 billion gallon cap envisioned by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA).  The report also recommends a reduction of biodiesel production from current levels, and no cellulosic biofuel production.


 

By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) awarded researchers from Clemson University a $147,744, two-year grant to evaluate the effectiveness of producing biofuels to mitigate climate change.  The project will analyze how switchgrass fields and loblolly pine forests affect local temperatures through the exchange of water, energy, radiation, and carbon with the atmosphere; and quantify below- and above-ground carbon fluxes in both loblolly pine and switchgrass plantations and assess the greenhouse gas emissions of the full biofuel production chain for each crop.  The goal is to develop a comparative picture of the potential of these feedstocks to reduce carbon emissions when generating electricity by co-firing in a coal power plant, and ultimately to aid the development of effective land-use policies. 


 

 

By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.

On August 1, 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held a public hearing to hear from all segments of the fuel industry on the proposed rule to set the 2018 renewable volume obligations (RVO) under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program.  Among the nearly 150 individuals and organizations scheduled to testify at the hearing were numerous biofuel industry stakeholders who praised EPA for issuing the proposed rule on time and for maintaining the statutory 15 billion gallon volume requirement for conventional renewable fuels, but urged the agency to increase the proposed requirements for advanced and cellulosic fuels. 
 
During its testimony, the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) stated that it believes that EPA “erred on the side of pessimism with regard to the potential for significant growth in cellulosic ethanol commercialization.”  According to Bob Dinneen, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the RFA, many plants are in the process of adding bolt-on fiber conversion technology to their existing facilities, which could dramatically increase cellulosic ethanol production next year.  RFA intends to provide EPA with updated projections for cellulosic fuel before the comment period ends.  Dinneen also highlighted concerns with Renewable Identification Number (RIN) market manipulation and suggested that EPA continue to allow imported biofuels to help comply with the RFS program.
 
With a group of approximately 20 speakers, the National Biodiesel Board (NBB) highlighted key data and information regarding market realities and underutilized capacity, and the impacts on small businesses and manufacturing, feedstock availability, and consumer choice.  Donnell Rehagen, NBB CEO, stated that the “current numbers shortchange the progress we have made. They are a step back for the RFS, job creation, small businesses and rural economies.”  Rehagen clarified that “these steps backwards are not about paper but people.”
 
The Renewable Energy Group (REG) informed EPA that ample feedstocks, technology and quality advances, and subsidized imported biofuel are three reasons why the agency should increase the biomass-based diesel and advanced biofuel minimum volumes.  Derek Winkel, Executive Director of Manufacturing, stated that “investments [into the biofuel sector] would not have been made without increasing demand for biodiesel and renewable diesel.  This demand, in part, is supported by a strong, growing and consistent RVO and RFS.”  Paul Nees, Executive Director of REG’s Operations Control Team, testified that “[t]he domestic biodiesel industry is ready and able to fulfill demand gaps with low-cost, high-quality fuel with no market disruption.”
 
During its testimony, the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA) suggested that the recent verdict in Americans for Clean Energy v. EPA should radically alter the factors EPA considers when determining RFS levels this year and going forward.  “The Court clearly affirmed that Congress’ intent for the RFS from the very beginning was to crack the petroleum monopoly and to push biofuels into the marketplace,” stated Monte Shaw, IRFA Executive Director.  “Whether in a reset discussion or in setting biodiesel and ethanol levels, the EPA must act according to the clear directive from the Court.”
 
The American Coalition for Ethanol's (ACE) testimony highlighted its view on conventional biofuel levels, the general waiver authority as it relates to inadequate domestic supply, the use of the reset provisions, and updating the greenhouse gas modeling for corn ethanol as it relates to Brazilian sugarcane ethanol.  The Coalition intends to detail its position on these topics in written comments.  Jonathon Lehman, ACE legislative counsel, also praised Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts and Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds for their strong public support for keeping the RFS on track.
 
Stakeholders representing the oil industry were also present to testify to the problems they see with the RFS program, including the representatives from the American Petroleum Institute (API), the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), and Valero. 
 
Written statements and supporting information concerning the proposed rule are available under Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2017-0091.  As stated in the Federal Register notice, EPA will consider the written comments with the same weight as any oral comments presented at the public hearing.


 

 

By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.

On August 3, 2017, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton announced that the state will implement a new biodiesel standard in May 2018 that will increase the biodiesel blend mandate from 10 percent (B10) to 20 percent (B20) between April and September each year.  Currently under the state’s biodiesel program, diesel fuel sold in Minnesota must contain at least 10 percent biodiesel during the summer months, with the blend lowering to 5 percent from October to March.  While the new mandate doubles the blend requirement during the summer months, the mandate will revert back to 5 percent over the winter months unless state officials and technical experts determine that accepted federal standards deem certain higher blends as suitable for year-round use in Minnesota.
 
Since a large portion of Minnesota’s biodiesel is made from homegrown soybeans, the new standard is expected to add an average of 63 cents to the market price of a bushel of soybeans for Minnesota farmers, and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 1 million tons next year.  Minnesota’s biodiesel industry is estimated to contribute more than $1.7 billion annually to the economy, with the state’s three biodiesel plants producing a combined 74 million gallons of biodiesel annually.


 

 

By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.

On July 26, 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published its analysis of the upstream greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions attributable to the production of sugar beets for use as a biofuel feedstock.  EPA considered a scenario in which non-cellulosic beet sugar is extracted for conversion to biofuel and the remaining beet pulp co-product is used as an animal feed.  Based on the findings, EPA anticipates that biofuels produced from sugar beets could qualify as a renewable fuel or advanced biofuel under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program, depending on the type and efficiency of the fuel production process technology used. 
 
Comments on the analysis are due by August 25, 2017.  The pre-publication version of the notice was issued on January 18, 2017, as previously reported in the Biobased and Renewable Products Advocacy Group (BRAG®) blog post EPA Seeks Comments on GHG Analysis of Sugar Beets for Biofuel Feedstock.


 

By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.

On July 20, 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) awarded 34 grants totaling $15.1 million for research on renewable energy, biobased products, and agroecosystems.  The grants, which are funded through the agency’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), are expected to help develop the next generation of renewable energy, bioproducts, and biomaterials; protect the ecosystems that support agriculture; and improve the agricultural systems and processes that help feed the nation. 
 
The following institutions were awarded grants for projects focused on cover crop systems for biofuel production:

  • USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) received $494,000 for the development of lupin, cereal rye, and carinata winter cover crops for biomass in the southern coastal plain;
  • Purdue University received $498,000 for the development of cover cropping for the development of sustainable co-production of bioenergy, food, feed (BFF) and ecosystem services (ES);
  • Iowa State University of Science and Technology received $498,378 for the development of perennial cover crop systems for maize grain and biomass production;
  • Louisiana State University Agricultural Center received $387,000 to study the feedstock production potential of energy cane-sweet sorghum rotation with a winter cover crop system; and
  • University of Nebraska received $500,000 to assess innovative strategies to maximize cover crop yields for biofuel across a precipitation gradient.​​
The following institutions were awarded grants for projects focused on the socioeconomic implications and public policy challenges of bioenergy and bioproducts market development and expansion:
  • Auburn University received $499,886 to identify the economic barriers to biomass production, to evaluate the effectiveness of the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) in stimulating biomass market expansion, and to explore the economic and ecosystem service implications of biomass production;
  • Colorado State University received $499,000 to produce a unified atlas of marginal lands in the U.S., and provide insight on the costs, potential environmental benefits, and overall practical likelihood of using those lands for biomass feedstock production;
  • Purdue University received $492,099 to develop a dynamic theoretical model on rejuvenating coal-power plants with biomass;
  • Iowa State University of Science and Technology received $499,622 to provide an integrated model-based assessment of the socioeconomic, policy, and market implications of sustainable bioenergy derived from cellulosic biomass; and
  • University of Missouri received $498,441 to evaluate impacts on forest resources surrounding power plants using woody biomass, assess economic impacts of wood biopower systems, and quantify tradeoffs between cost, carbon reductions, and renewable energy generation obtained by the increased use of wood biopower.  
More information on the grants is available at the NIFA website.

 
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