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

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) is hosting an Algae Cultivation for Carbon Capture and Utilization Workshop on May 23-24, 2017, in Orlando, Florida.  The event will feature facilitated discussions focused on gathering stakeholder input on innovative technologies and business strategies for growing algae on waste carbon dioxide (CO2) resources.  Stakeholders will be encouraged to consider challenges and opportunities related to:

                               
■  Sourcing CO2, including quality, quantity, siting, and transport considerations; 
 
■  Cultivating algae, including biomass productivity, efficiency in CO2 utilization, and carbon balances in end products; and
 
■  Finding sustainable “win-win” solutions to reducing CO2 emissions while finding cost savings.


Workshop discussion will help inform DOE strategies to realize affordable, scalable, and sustainable production biofuels and bioproducts made from algae.  Registration is available online.


 

On August 25, 2016, researchers at the University of Michigan, led by research professor John M. DeCicco, Ph.D., published "Carbon balance effects of U.S. biofuel production and use," a study examining the impact of biofuel production on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The study, funded in part by the American Petroleum Institute, examined USDA crop-production data and determined that the increasing use of biofuels has resulted in a net increase of CO2 emissions, with only 37 percent of CO2 emissions from biofuel combustion offset by the increased CO2 uptake from biofuel crops. Biofuels have generally been assumed to be inherently carbon neutral because the CO2 released by combustion is equal to the CO2 that was originally pulled from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. In this study, Dr. DeCicco did not assume that biofuels were carbon neutral, going through crop, biofuel, and fossil fuel production data, as well as vehicle emissions, to determine that biofuels produce more CO2 emissions than gasoline.

MichBio, Michigan's biosciences industry association, issued a strong condemnation of the study, calling it "flawed" and based on inappropriate modeling assumptions. The lifecycle analysis used by Dr. DeCicco provides a carbon storage credit to fossil fuels from existing forests and agriculture that MichBio argues is wholly inappropriate due to the lack of an economic relationship between the petroleum industry and agriculture and forestry. MichBio concedes that biofuels are not carbon neutral, but states that the issue is more complex than Dr. DeCicco implies: "No competent life cycle assessment assumes that biofuels are carbon neutral, only that the actual carbon content of the fuels came from the atmosphere in the first place and returns to the atmosphere when it is combusted. That much is simple chemistry, and without argument. For the rest of the biofuel life cycle, the question of carbon neutrality is very much a research question, not a decided issue as DeCicco would have one believe." MichBio goes on to reference an independently funded study by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory that showed "conventional biofuels reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 34 percent over their lifecycle, while advanced biofuels can reduce emissions by 100 percent or more over conventional gasoline."


 

On May 11, 2015, Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) introduced S. 1282 -- a bill to amend the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to require the Secretary of Energy to consider the objective of improving the conversion, use, and storage of carbon dioxide (CO2) produced from fossil fuels in carrying out research and development (R&D) programs under that Act. The bill represents a broad recognition of the importance of algae and other biobased carbon utilization platforms that can convert CO2 into fuels, chemicals, and other valuable biobased products. If passed, S. 1282 will add "improving the conversion, use, and storage of carbon dioxide produced from fossil fuels" to the list of Department of Energy (DOE) fossil energy R&D objectives under Section 961(a) of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (42 U.S.C. § 16291(a)).


 

On June 2, 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a pre-publication version of its proposed rule on "Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units." This precedent-setting proposal seeks to reduce carbon dioxide from existing power plants by 30 percent by 2030.


According to the pre-publication version of the proposed rule, four public hearings will be convened in Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Denver, and Washington, D.C. Comments will be due 120 days following the date the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register. A copy of the pre-publication version of the 645-page proposed rule is available online. Fact sheets on the proposal are available online.


Lobbying efforts on the proposal have already begun in earnest. The Algae Biomass Organization (ABO), for instance, issued a press release on June 2 calling on EPA to include Carbon Capture and Utilization strategies in its final rule to reduce carbon emissions. A copy of ABO's press release is available online.