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By  Lynn L. Bergeson and Ligia Duarte Botelho, M.A.
 
On May 4, 2021, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory published an article titled “Retrospective Analysis of the U.S. Corn Ethanol Industry for 2005-2019: Implications for Greenhouse Gas Emission Reductions.” Using a life-cycle analysis (LCA), researchers at the Argonne National Laboratory quantified the life cycle of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of fuels to compare relative GHG impacts among different fuel production pathways. According to the retrospective analysis conducted, since 2000, corn ethanol production in the United States quadrupled due to supportive biofuels policies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Consequently, carbon intensity (CI) over the past 15 years has significantly decreased by 23 percent. Since 2000, the corn ethanol production pathway, including corn farming and biorefineries, has substantially evolved. Researchers state in the article that this shift into more efficient farming and biorefinery practices increases revenue while also potentially reducing the emission burdens of ethanol production. DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory researchers conclude that biofuels, including corn ethanol, can and likely will play a key role in decarbonizing the U.S. economy.
 
The article’s findings will also be used by DOE to update key corn ethanol parameters in the Argonne National Laboratory’s Greenhouse Gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy Use in Technologies (GREET) Model 2021, which will be released in October 2021.


 

By  Lynn L. Bergeson and Ligia Duarte Botelho, M.A.
 
On May 25, 2021, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced the availability of up to $14.5 million in investments for research and development (R&D) to reduce waste and energy use related to the recycling of single-use plastics. As the largest subset of plastics found in landfills, single-use plastics, including plastic bags, wraps, and films, are also among the most challenging to recycle. According to DOE, plastic production uses the same amount of oil around the world as the aviation industry. Only ten percent of plastics, however, are currently recycled, and most of those plastics are downcycled, or repurposed into low-value products. DOE Secretary of Energy, Jennifer M. Granholm, hopes that these funds supporting plastic recycling innovation will be a “triple win by cutting plastic waste we see in our everyday lives, reducing industrial energy use and resulting emissions, and creating clean manufacturing jobs for American workers.” This is an effort by DOE to decarbonize the plastics industry and increase investments in recycling processes. There are many obstacles to plastic film recycling, including collection, sorting, contamination, and lack of economically viable methods for recycling and upcycling. Therefore, DOE will support various projects to develop viable solutions for converting plastic films to more valuable materials and designing plastics that are more recyclable and biodegradable.

In addition to a concept paper and full application, the application process requires a description of how diversity, equity, and inclusion objectives will be incorporated into the project. Submission deadlines are as follows:

  • Concept Paper – Deadline: June 28, 2021, by 5:00 p.m. (EDT);
  • Full Application – Deadline: August 16, 2021, by 5:00 p.m. (EDT); and
  • View Full Application Reviewer Comments – Between September 23, 2021, and September 28, 2021, by 5:00 p.m. (EDT).

 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Ligia Duarte Botelho, M.A.

On February 22, 2021, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) announced its comprehensive strategy to decarbonize transportation by 30-85 percent by 2050. A strategy based on research and engineering, it aims to enable industry stakeholders, government bodies, communities, and early adopters to meet their climate goals. In a nutshell, the strategy takes a whole-system approach to pair the best technology with the right application. Chris Gearhart, NREL’s Center for Integrated Mobility Sciences Director, stated that NREL envisions “a mobility system fueled with clean, renewable energy, delivered directly by vehicle electrification, or indirectly by low-carbon, energy dense fuels and renewable hydrogen for those sectors, like marine and aviation, that are harder to electrify.” Johney Green, Associate Laboratory Director for NREL’s Mechanical and Thermal Engineering Sciences, expanded: “The spectrum of technological, social, and environmental shifts happening today requires a novel research agenda.” Keeping long-term trends in mind, NREL’s vision entails a multi-pronged strategy that provides scientific building blocks for advancing research and development (R&D) priorities such as:

  • Accelerating vehicle technology innovations;
     
  • Increasing transport efficiency;
     
  • Maximizing the use of renewable electrons through time; and
     
  • Integrating transportation with building, the grid, and renewables to realize system-wide benefits.
     

 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Ligia Duarte Botelho, M.A.

On March 3, 2021, the co-chairs of the House Biofuels Caucus, U.S. Representatives Cindy Axne (D-IA) and Rodney Davis (R-IL), introduced the Renewable Fuels Infrastructure Investment and Market Expansion Act, which would expand access to higher biofuel blends. Building off the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Higher Blends Infrastructure Inventive Program, this bill intends to provide consistent federal investment ($500 million over five years) on biofuels infrastructure, while also removing barriers to 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline (E15) fuel blends and allowing Underground Storage Tanks (UST) to store higher blends of ethanol.

On the same day, with the support of Representatives Axne and Davis, among others, U.S. Representative Dusty Johnson (R-SD) introduced the Adopt GREET Act. The Adopt GREET Act would require that EPA update its greenhouse gas (GHG) models for ethanol and biodiesel to reflect better the environmental benefits of agriculture and biofuels. Specifically, EPA would be obligated, under this Act, to adopt the Argonne National Laboratory’s Greenhouse Gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy Use in Transportation (GREET) Model for both biodiesel and ethanol fuels and update its model as needed every five years.

Both pieces of legislation are being supported by several industry stakeholders, including the National Corn Growers Association, the Renewable Fuels Association, and Growth Energy.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson

On October 20, 2020, Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Representative Mike Levin (D-CA) introduced in the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives the Zero-Emission Vehicles At of 2020 (the Act). The Act would amend Part A of Title II of the Clean Air Act (CAA) to create a federal national zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) standard and address climate change by ending U.S. sales of new gasoline-powered vehicles in 2035. Senator Merkley and Representative Levin’s standard aims to boost the market for battery electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Sponsored by four other Senators and an additional 15 Representatives, the ZEV standard has also been criticized by conservatives and biofuels industry stakeholders. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) stated that Iowans should not “allow coastal state lawmakers to dictate to Middle America how to live [their] lives or take away the freedom to choose what kind of car to buy.”


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson

On April 17, 2019, Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, Francois Villeroy de Galhau, Governor of the Banque de France, and Frank Edelson, Chair of the Network for Greening the Financial Services (NGFS), published an open letter on the financial implications of global warming.  Co-signed by the NGFS coalition, consisting of 34 central banks, the letter warns of global warming’s potential damage to infrastructure and private property, negative human health effects, decrease in productivity, and wealth destruction.  The letter states that no countries are immune to the effects of climate change and that “if some companies and industries fail to adjust to this new world, they will fail to exist.”  Although the Paris agreement has and continues to promote a low-carbon economy, further measures would be central to achieving zero net zero carbon emissions by 2050.  Key to reaching this goal would be a massive reallocation of capital, the financial experts highlight.
 
Given the challenges associated with achieving zero-carbon emissions, in the letter, Carney, Villeroy de Galhau, and NGFS members propose four recommendations to policymakers and financial firms:

  • The integration of climate-related financial risks into daily work, financial stability monitoring, and board risk management.  Policymakers and financial firms should conduct scenario analyses and take a long-term strategic approach, which considers risks associated with global warming.  These risks should be embedded it into their business-as-usual governance and risk-management frameworks.
  • Leadership by example, particularly by central banks, to integrate sustainability into their own portfolio management.
  • Internal and external collaboration among public authorities to bridge data gaps important to assessments of climate-related risks.
  • In-house capacity building and knowledge sharing with various stakeholders on the financial risks related to climate change.

According to the letter, the successful implementation of these four recommendations would lead to two broader calls for action on disclosure and classification of these risks.  Market and regulators’ support in assessing risks and opportunities from climate change accompanied by consistent international disclosure are critical.  In addition, NGFS members also encourage the development of a classification system to identify economic activities that would contribute to the transition to a low-carbon economy.  In sum, robust leadership and collaboration play a crucial role in identifying global solutions for the financial sector.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson

On December 6, 2018, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) wrote a letter to President Donald Trump requesting that, in 2019, any infrastructure package to be considered include a focus on the clean energy economy to address climate change. Emphasizing that climate change is, in fact, real and caused by humans, Senator Schumer refers to the Administration’s recent National Climate Assessment report and the drastic need to reduce emissions. In the letter, Senator Schumer outlines a number of policies that must be included in an infrastructure package in the next Congress. Among these policies are the need to:

  • Invest in research, development, and deployment of clean energy, energy efficiency, carbon reduction, and energy storage technologies;
  • Provide permanent tax incentives and investments for domestic production of clean energy and renewable power; and
  • Invest in upgrades in clean energy for public schools, buildings, and other infrastructure.

Senator Schumer concludes his letter to President Trump highlighting that “[t]he challenge is immense, but so is the opportunity to revitalize and modernize our infrastructure, create new jobs and economic opportunities, and position the United States as a leader in clean energy innovation.”


 

By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.

On October 5, 2017, Neste, a member of the Biobased and Renewable Products Advocacy Group (BRAG®), announced the publication of its business environment outlook titled “Taking Action on Climate Change.”  The report provides an overview of key changes taking place in the energy, transport, and chemicals markets and of select drivers of such change.  The report highlights the role biofuels can play in reducing emissions from the road, aviation, and marine transport sectors.  Demand for renewable diesel is expected to double in North America, the Nordic countries, and Europe by 2021.  Additionally, renewable aviation fuels provide an important solution for an industry committed to reducing its carbon dioxide emissions despite an increasing demand for aviation fuel.
 
The report also suggests that rapidly increasing resource consumption and waste generation are the driving force behind the move towards a circular economy.  Neste expects the bioplastics market to grow by more than 40 percent by 2021, with 80 percent of the growth coming from durable biobased plastics.  To help decouple plastics from the consumption of fossil-based feedstocks, Neste is developing new business operations from bioplastics using its renewable products as the raw materials. 
 
By 2020, Neste aims to have renewable jet fuel, renewable chemicals, and biobased plastics account for 20 percent of its renewable business sales volume.


 

By Kathleen M. Roberts

On August 29, 2017, the government of the province of Ontario, Canada announced $25.8 million has been allocated to the Low Carbon Innovation Fund (LCIF) as a part of the province’s Climate Change Action Plan.  The funding will be used to support emerging, innovative technologies in areas such as alternative energy generation and conservation, new biofuels or bioproducts, next-generation transportation or novel carbon capture and usage technologies. 
 
Funding is available either from:

  • The Technology Demonstration stream, which aims to support the development and commercialization of innovative low carbon technologies through testing in real-world settings; or
  • The Technology Validation stream, which aims to fund proof-of-concept or prototype projects from eligible Ontario companies or academic organizations to help them get to market faster.
To be eligible for LCIF, projects must be conducted in Ontario and must show significant potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Ontario.  Ontario’s Climate Change Action Plan is key to its achievement of its goal of cutting greenhouse gas pollution to 15 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, 37 percent below by 2030, and 80 percent below by 2050.

 

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. 


 
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