By Lynn L. Bergeson
In January 2019, scientists at the nova-Institut GmbH, in Hurth, Germany, published a study on the sustainability of first and second generation sugars as a resource for the biobased chemical industry. The study, which includes a comprehensive sustainability assessment, “shows that first generation sugars are as advantageous as second generation sugars for a feasible and sustainable resource strategy of Europe’s bio-based chemical industry.” Despite the negative connotation of first generation feedstocks portrayed in public discussions, the study results indicate that these public concerns are not in any manner based on scientific evidence. Carried out in a context of shifting sugar markets and feedstock sustainability for biobased products and chemicals, the study analyzes 12 different sustainability criteria, concluding that all of the researched feedstocks of sugars offer significant strengths and weaknesses for a feasible climate change strategy in the European Union (EU).
On January 12, 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a Federal Register notice announcing the availability of EPA’s response to a petition it received from the Biobased and Renewable Products Advocacy Group (BRAG®) under Section 21 of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). BRAG requested EPA to promulgate a rule pursuant to TSCA Section 8 that would establish a process to amend the list of natural sources of oil and fat in the “Soap and Detergent Association” (SDA) nomenclature system by considering the chemical equivalency of additional natural sources. While EPA denied the TSCA Section 21 petition, EPA left the door open for additional relief in this area and its notice provides useful information regarding options for doing so.
EPA concurred with BRAG that SDA nomenclature is currently limited to the listed sources. In its notice, EPA states, “[t]he petition correctly recognizes the current limitations of certain TSCA Inventory listings (i.e., those listings that incorporate particular assumptions about the natural sources of fats or oils from which the listed substance is derived, because they were named according to the SDA naming convention). Manufacturers of a new chemical substance that clearly falls outside the definitional scope of an existing chemical substance are not allowed to determine that the new chemical substance is nonetheless sufficiently ‘similar’ to the existing chemical substance, and simply deem the new chemical substance to be an existing substance on the basis of that similarity.”
While not providing details as to how it could be accomplished, EPA’s response seems to indicate that there may be opportunities for BRAG to achieve its goal. EPA stated “the petition presumes, without justification, that until a certain preliminary EPA rulemaking has been completed, those same manufacturers lack a meaningful opportunity to request that EPA enlarge the definitional scope of one or more existing chemical substances named according to the SDA naming convention.” “Although the response indicates that the current SDA Nomenclature system is limited to the original 35 sources, it is encouraging that EPA does not see a regulatory barrier to adding additional sources,” stated Richard E. Engler, Ph.D., Senior Chemist with Bergeson & Campbell, P.C. (B&C®) and BRAG advisor. Further, “[t]his language appears to support the contention that there may be an opportunity to request EPA to expand the SDA naming convention beyond the current list of 35 plant and animal sources.”
Similarly, Kathleen M. Roberts, Executive Director of BRAG, stated “BRAG is encouraged by the language in Assistant Administrator James J. Jones’ letter to BRAG, in which he highlighted Section 5(h)(4) as a potential mechanism to achieve BRAG’s goal with the Section 21 petition.” Section 5(h)(4) allows EPA to develop a rulemaking for exemption of certain chemical substances if EPA determines that the manufacture, processing, distribution, use, or disposal will not present an unreasonable risk.
Ms. Roberts also stated that “BRAG members are evaluating next steps, including careful consideration of the potential pathways to achieve the ultimate goal of the petition that EPA identified in its response.” As part of its 2016 efforts, BRAG is expanding its membership to include more companies that have already been or may be adversely impacted by EPA’s current naming convention policies, such as companies looking to produce bio-based chemicals from algae or non-traditional plant materials.
On October 13, 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a notice inviting comments on its analysis of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions attributable to the production and transport of jatropha curcas (jatropha) oil feedstock for use in making biofuels such as biodiesel, renewable diesel, jet fuel, naphtha, and liquefied petroleum gas. This notice was issued as a result of two petitions: (1) Global Clean Energy Holdings’ and Emerald Biofuels, LLC’s petition pursuant to the petition process for evaluation of new renewable fuels pathways, 40 C.F.R. § 80.1416, requesting that EPA evaluate the lifecycle GHG emissions for biofuels (biodiesel, renewable diesel, jet fuel and naphtha) produced from the oil extracted from jatropha oil, and that EPA provide a determination of the renewable fuel categories, if any, for which such biofuels may be eligible under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program; and (2) Plant Oil Powered Diesel Fuel Systems, Inc.’s petition requesting that EPA evaluate the lifecycle GHG emissions for the use of neat jatropha oil as a transportation fuel, and that EPA provide a determination of the renewable fuel categories, if any, for which such neat jatropha oil fuel may be eligible.
In response to these petitions, EPA:
- Conducted an evaluation of the GHG emissions associated with the production and transport of jatropha oil when it is used as a biofuel feedstock, and is seeking public comment on the methodology and results of this evaluation; and
- Conducted an evaluation of the GHG emissions associated with the feedstock production and feedstock transport stages of the lifecycle analysis of jatropha oil when it is used to produce a biofuel, including the indirect agricultural and forestry sector impacts. EPA is also seeking public comment on the methodology and results of this evaluation.
Based on this analysis, EPA stated that it anticipates that biofuels produced from jatropha oil could qualify as biomass-based diesel or advanced biofuel if typical fuel production process technologies or process technologies with the same or lower GHG emissions are used.
If appropriate, EPA will update its evaluation of the feedstock production and transport phases of the lifecycle analysis for jatropha oil based on comments received in response to this action. EPA will then use this feedstock production and transport information to evaluate facility-specific petitions that propose to use jatropha oil as a feedstock for the production of biofuel. In evaluating such petitions, EPA will consider the GHG emissions associated with the production and transport of jatropha oil feedstock. In addition, EPA will determine -- based on information in the petition and other relevant information, including the petitioner’s energy and mass balance data -- the GHG emissions associated with petitioners’ biofuel production processes, as well as emissions associated with the transport and use of the finished biofuel, and will then combine its assessments into a full lifecycle GHG analysis and determine whether the fuel produced at an individual facility satisfies Clean Air Act renewable fuel GHG reduction requirements.
Comments are due November 12, 2015 (30 days from Federal Register publication). An incorrect comment due date (October 13, 2015) in the October 13, 2015, Federal Register notice was corrected in an October 19, 2015, notice in the Federal Register.
On September 3, 2015, the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) released a Request for Information (RFI) titled “High Yields through Productivity and Integration Research.” BETO is seeking input from industry, academia, and other stakeholders regarding supply systems and services for the cultivation, logistics, and preprocessing of algal feedstocks.
This RFI provides algae stakeholders with an opportunity to contribute their views on the requirements necessary to develop reliable and sustainable supplies of algal biomass, algal intermediates, and metabolites. Multiple types of algae, including microalgae, cyanobacteria, and macroalgae are of interest.
On April 24, 2015, EPA released a Federal Register notice inviting comment on analysis of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions produced during the production and transport of Brassica carinata (carinata) oil feedstock for use in the production of biofuels. The plant is not used for food in the U.S., and has high concentrations of erucic acid, making it attractive for use in biolubricants and biopolymers, as well as biofuels. EPA anticipates that biofuels produced using carinata oil will qualify as advanced biofuels, and the analysis will be used to determine if the biofuels will meet necessary GHG reductions required for qualification as renewable fuel under the RFS program. The notice is open for comment until May 26, 2015.
The 6th Annual Next Generation Biobased and Sustainable
Chemicals Summit took place this week in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Summit was
co-located with the InformEx Fine and Specialty Chemical Conference, which
provided expanded programming and exposure to a larger audience. Senior
executives from Verdezyne, Elevance Renewable Sciences, Lanzatech, Succinity, Novasep,
Corbion Purac and more joined with researchers, financiers, and feedstock
providers to discuss current developments and challenges and map out a clear
path for commercialization.
& Campbell, P.C.'s (B&C®) Senior Policy Advisor Richard E.
Engler, Ph.D., led a lively discussion on the viability and
commercial advantages/disadvantages of a variety of renewable feedstocks with
Clement Choy, Ph.D., Senior Director, Product Innovation and Advanced
Technology of consumer goods brand Seventh
Generation; Stafano Facco, New Business Development Director at
European bioplastics company Novamont SpA;
Stacy Jordahl, Vice President, Bio Refining and Emerging Technologies, for MeadWestVaco's
Specialty Chemicals Division; Ray Miller, Chief Business Officer
for Verdezyne, a company
making biochemicals via proprietary fermentation technology; and John Shaw, CEO
of Itaconix Corp.,
which makes specialty chemicals from itaconic acid produced from biobased
feedstocks via fermentation.
The speakers provided candid feedback on the impact of reduced oil
prices and the volatility of that market on their particular product lines.
They also provided unique insight in value chain interactions and customer
needs related to biobased products.
M. Roberts, Executive Director of the Biobased and Renewable
Products Advocacy Group (BRAG®) and program advisor for the Summit,
reported that the program allowed for robust dialogue among varied biobased
industry stakeholders, thus facilitating participants' further understanding of
the challenges faced by the diverse groups represented at the Summit, and their
interest in expanding the biobased market.
Engler and Roberts will both be speaking at next month's ABLC 2015 in
Washington, D.C., a gathering of over 400 of the leaders in the advanced
bioeconomy -- biofuels, biochemicals, policy, finance, and government --
organized and presented by Biofuels Digest. Register for
this important conference online.
Oils Inc. issued a press release announcing the issuance of a feedstock-only
pathway for the production of Camelina-based fuels under the California Low
Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS). According to the release, this action
by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) results in Camelina being the only
scalable, non-food based crop that meets both California and federal fuel
The Bioenergy Technologies Office within the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has issued a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA), "Landscape Design for Sustainable Bioenergy Systems."
DOE is looking for interdisciplinary projects that integrate landscape design approaches with cellulosic feedstock production within existing agricultural and forestry systems. Projects must maintain, or preferably enhance, environmental and socio-economic sustainability. The FOA includes funding up to $14 million.
This funding will help take the next steps for previous DOE-funded projects that demonstrated potential for increased sustainability through strategic placement of bioenergy feedstock production within a landscape. The FOA will engage landowners and multi-disciplinary stakeholders in the design of the landscape, field research on sustainability metrics, and assessing logistic systems needed to provide high quality cellulosic feedstocks to conversion facilities for bioenergy.
More information on the FOA is available on DOE's website.
BETO is hosting a workshop on November 5, 2014, in Arlington, Virginia, to address challenges in converting waste food products to energy. The workshop will gather experts in the field to identify technical barriers to the commercial development of liquid transportation fuels from waste feedstocks, which will ultimately help develop a roadmap that highlights the key pathways and metrics to reaching commercialization. Registration is free, but space is limited. More information is available online.
Researchers from the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products at the University of York worked with colleagues in France to discover variant straw plants whose cell walls are more easily broken down to make biofuels. Straw is an ideal plant to be used as biomass as it does not have food uses and contains a high number of polysaccharides that can be fermented into ethanol. Previously, straw has not been commercially viable as a biofuel feedstock as the cost of breaking down the straw to produce sugars is too high. This research identified 12 straw variants that are easier to digest without negatively affecting the strength of the plant. These findings could lead the way to viable uses for straw in biofuel production in the future. More information is available online.