Food vs. Fuel in 2013

EPAIn coming days, the Environmental Protection Agency’s to-do list will include setting a standard for the amount of the advanced biofuels that refiners will be required to blend into gasoline and diesel supplies in 2013. Question is tricky because production in one category, cellulosic fuel from nonfood sources like corn cobs, stalks, wood chips, garbage, has not met target set by Congress. E.P.A. has the authority to adjust the quotas as needed, but the issue is complicated. The quotas were laid out in 2007 when Congress established a renewable fuel standard. Under its targets, the production of cellulosic fuel was supposed to hit one billion gallons next year, up from 500 million in 2012, 250 million in 2011 and 100 million in 2010. But so far output is near zero because no one seems to have hit on a commercially successful recipe. So far the E.P.A. has had little choice but to repeatedly waive nearly all of cellulosic requirement, but this has led to bitter complaints from refiners, who say they are still required to use small quantities of a fuel that does not exist or face fines. Even as the agency waived most of cellulosic requirement, it kept intact a larger 2.75 billion-gallon quota for “advanced” biofuels in general, which includes cellulosic, ethanol made from Brazilian sugar cane and biodiesel made mostly from soybeans. The production of biodiesel or sugar-cane ethanol is favored because each process emits relatively little carbon dioxide, predominant greenhouse gas, meaning it has an advantage on the global warming front. Keeping the quota for advanced fuels intact was more or less O.K. when the agency waived smaller cellulosic mandates, said Jeremy I. Martin, a senior scientist in Union of Concerned Scientists’ clean vehicles program. But it’s going to be a problem if the agency waives a one billion gallon requirement for 2013, he warned. If the overall 2.75 billion quota for advanced fuels is not reduced, biodiesel and the sugar-cane ethanol will have to make up the difference. And if that happens, Mr. Martin argues, the quota will start putting more pressure on food supplies. Various other industrial users of food, especially companies that raise chickens, turkeys, hogs and beef, have meanwhile been trying to get the mandate for corn ethanol reduced, but E.P.A. has declined to do so. Biofuel industry has been pushing hard to maintain quotas, with waivers for cellulosic fuels as needed, year by year. A new industry report catalogs a growing number of efforts to produce cellulosic biofuels, albeit commercially unsuccessful ones. “All in all, the post-election environment in Washington seems to promise continuation of stable policy support for the advanced biofuels commercialization and robust growth of the industry,” Brent Erickson, executive vice president of Biotechnology industry Organization said in a letter to supporters this month. Martin’s theory is that E.P.A. should stay the course. “We’re going to have to accept that the cellulosic fuels are late’’, but it would be better to delay the quotas than to eliminate them. “Going in the right direction a little more slowly is better than going in wrong direction’’. (NYTimes – 25/12/2012)


Acerca de ignaciocovelo
Consultor Internacional

One Response to Food vs. Fuel in 2013

  1. Professor Uziel Nogueira says: Brazil has the longest run sugar cane based fuel ethanol program in the world. Even today, it is not clear the costs and benefits of such program if environmental and (true) economic costs are taken into account. One thing for sure. Without heavy government (taxpayers) subsidies, fuel ethanol in Brazil is not economically feasible, even with oil prices over $100 a barrel. In the case of the US, corn based fuel ethanol has no future for two reasons. First, agricultural subsidies are being phased out due to the huge US public debt. Second, high octane gasoline and diesel can be produced cheaply from recently discovered vast reserves of natural gas.


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