Energy Tomorrow Blog
Posted March 11, 2015
To the chorus of voices sounding the alarm on the broken Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) – AAA, automakers, outdoor power equipment manufacturers, marine manufacturers, turkey and chicken producers, restaurant companies, grocery manufacturers, environmental non-profits and anti-hunger groups – add another: the advanced biofuels industry.
Given the fact the RFS was designed to encourage development of advanced and cellulosic biofuels, the Advanced Biofuels Association’s call for significant RFS reform is a game-changer in the ongoing public policy debate. ABFA President Michael McAdams at this week’s Advanced Bioeconomy Leadership Conference:
“… the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) – the very tool that was created to foster our industry – has become one of the greatest obstacles to continued development of the advanced and cellulosic biofuel industry due to inconsistent and poor implementation.”
The issue is the way the RFS, through annual ethanol mandates, has resulted in ever-increasing production of ethanol made from corn – versus ethanol and other biofuels made from non-food feedstocks.
Posted March 7, 2015
The politics of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and its mandates for ever-increasing ethanol use are on display this weekend in Iowa, a key presidential primary state. Nothing against Iowa – or ethanol, for that matter – but the RFS illustrates that when you mix energy policy and politics bad public policy can result.
Certainly, the RFS shows the difficulty of trying to apply central planning to the marketplace, of trying to mandate consumer behavior. The RFS is a relic of the era of energy scarcity in the U.S. whose best intentions have been superseded by surging domestic oil and natural gas production.
Still, the RFS remains and along with it potential risks to the economy, vehicle engines and more. It also risks unintended consequences, including a moral/ethical dilemma over whether food should be turned into fuels, as well as concern for the environmental impact of corn ethanol production.
Posted March 4, 2015
Let’s update an informative chart that’s critical in the continuing discussion of E15 fuel and the ethanol mandates of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).
It lists, by vehicle manufacturers and model years, whether a specific manufacturer recommends operation of its vehicles on E15, which contains 50 percent more ethanol than the E10 fuel that’s prevalent across the country. We’ve posted the manufacturers/model years grid a number of times (including here and here), but this chart s updated to include the 2015 model year.
Posted February 25, 2015
The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and its mandates for increasing use of ethanol continue to be debated publicly – in Congress, where lawmakers could vote to repeal the dysfunctional program and in places like Chicago, where service stations could be forced to carry higher-ethanol blend E15 fuel.
The Fill Up On Facts website is a great resource on the RFS, ethanol mandates and related issues. Information is available on the RFS itself, as well as problems that have made the program and its ethanol mandates untenable – like the refining “blend wall,” potential risks to vehicle and equipment engines and impacts on food prices.
Posted February 18, 2015
Posted February 5, 2015
Two of the Environmental Protection Agency’s seven statements of purpose reference “best available scientific information” and “accurate information.” These also happen to be two things that many in Washington, D.C., feel that EPA is setting aside in the pursuit of political goals. Yesterday the agency released comments on the Keystone XL pipeline that gave plenty of credence to its critics.
It is somewhat of a shame, because EPA’s comments did make many good points. It acknowledged the comprehensiveness of the State Departments review of the project, the usefulness of mitigation measures the project will take to reduce environmental impact and the reduction of risks associated with spills and leaks from the pipeline. And then we begin to drift from accurate information into political calculation.
Posted January 16, 2015
Pacific Standard magazine (PS) has an interesting longread on honeybees in its January issue. While this is not our area of expertise and we can’t judge the veracity of the entire article, there was one part that we had, unfortunately, seen before:
Over a million acres of grassland were converted to crops in five Midwestern states from 2006 to 2011, according to a study by South Dakota State University. … Across the region more than 99 percent of what was originally prairie has been converted, mostly to corn and soy for animal feed, ethanol, and sweetener … Now the entire Midwest, several beekeepers told me, has become a “corn desert.” This has wrought devastation on most anything that used to live in the fields. Monarch butterflies no longer have milkweed for laying eggs. Birds no longer have insects to eat or prairie to shelter in. Native bees are disappearing.
The years 2006 to 2011 are not a coincidence, as the Environmental Working Group (EWG) explains:
After the federal Renewable Fuel Standard was signed into law in 2007, many corn growers decided to plant corn year after year to profit from higher prices, rather than switching between corn and soybeans, for example. This transition has greatly harmed air and water quality.
And apparently bees. But not to worry, the federal government is on the case.
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Posted December 31, 2014
So long, 2014. From an energy standpoint, you’ll be missed. Let’s count the ways:
Surging domestic oil and natural gas production – largely thanks to safe hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling – is driving an American energy revolution that’s creating jobs here at home and greater security for the United States in the world.
It’s a revolution with macro-economic and geopolitical impacts, for sure. But it’s also a revolution that’s benefit virtually every American.
Posted December 22, 2014
A new peer-reviewed study of transportation fueling options generated a pretty good buzz last week, basically for the finding that electric vehicles might not be as good for the environment as previously thought. Another of the study’s conclusions also is worth underscoring: the negative environmental impacts of corn ethanol in fuels.
A team of University of Minnesota researchers assessed life-cycle air quality impacts of 10 alternatives to conventional gasoline vehicles. On corn ethanol:
We find that powering vehicles with corn ethanol or with coal-based or “grid average” electricity increases monetized environmental health impacts by 80% or more relative to using conventional gasoline.
Posted December 16, 2014
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his allies on the city council deserve credit for putting a stop – for now at least – to an ill-conceived proposal that would mandate the sale of higher ethanol blend E15 fuel at city service stations.
We say ill-conceived because, as argued here and here earlier this year, the E15 requirement could be full of risk for consumers and small business owners – while mainly benefiting ethanol producers. Recently, AAA urged Chicago lawmakers to vote against the ordinance.