December 2011

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Bioenergy > Timeline > 2011 > December 2011

This page includes information on News and Events in December 2011.

  • (News and events are archived here after the end of the month.)



  • Brazil, short of biofuel, can't open spigot to US, 30 December 2011 by Reuters: "For three decades, the U.S. government sought to protect American corn farmers and ethanol makers from a feared flood of Brazilian imports by imposing a tariff that had the South American country crying foul."
    • "With Brazil's ethanol industry struggling to meet booming local demand, it's U.S. producers instead who are shipping millions of gallons to the south."
    • "Three factors have converged to push Brazil's ethanol distilleries to the limit. Sugarcane production fell this year for the first time in a decade, reducing supplies; global demand for sugar has remained strong; and domestic motor-fuel demand has surged, straining local gasoline and ethanol supply."
    • "That should come as a relief to U.S. farmers who have fought to protect their subsidized corn ethanol market from producers in Brazil, whose tropical sun and cheap land allow abundant production of sugarcane, a much more efficient biofuel feedstock than corn."
    • "Cellulosic ethanol and biomass biodiesel made in the United States are also considered advanced biofuels, but supplies of these fuels have been too low to fill demand. The resulting price increase allowed certified Brazilian ethanol to compete despite the tariff."[1]
  • Judge blocks California's low-carbon fuel rules, 30 December 2011 by the Los Angeles Times: "A federal judge on Thursday temporarily halted California's ability to enforce rules to reduce the carbon footprint of transportation fuels, effectively taking the regulatory teeth out of the state's year-old program."
    • "U.S. District Judge Lawrence O'Neill issued a preliminary injunction that ruled the California Air Resources Board's low-carbon fuel regulations violated the U.S. Constitution's commerce clause by discriminating against crude oil and biofuels producers located outside California."
    • "The regulations require producers, refiners and importers of gasoline and diesel to reduce the carbon footprint of their fuel by 10% over the next decade, as part of California's landmark global-warming law aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020."
    • "The regulation calculates the life cycle of fuels from their extraction — or cultivation, in the case of biofuels such as corn-based ethanol — to their combustion. For example, the state considers how corn is grown, harvested and converted to ethanol intended for California gas tanks, a life-cycle evaluation called 'seeds to wheels.'..."[2]
  • Biofuel Subsidies Need Reform, 27 December 2011 by The Energy Collective: "Americans want the U.S. to lead the world in renewable energy, but these are screwy times in our nation’s capital. Some people are trying to turn clean, renewable energy into something dirty."
    • "That’s the case with the impending expiration of the main corn ethanol tax credit."
    • "Despite Norquist’s initial defense of the subsidy, at the end of the day, not even the millions the corn ethanol industry spent on lobbying could stand up against the evidence: the VEETC was redundant and wasteful, throwing billions in scarce taxpayer dollar towards another dirty fuel."
    • "The first and most important step in moving towards the biofuels we need is to stop funding mature, conventional, and dirty biofuels."
    • "Second, the entrepreneurs and innovators in the advanced biofuels industry all say that the Renewable Fuel Standard is critical to getting their fuels out of the lab and into the market place. But to be effective, the RFS and its implementation need to be strengthened and improved over time."
    • "And finally, we need to reform biofuel tax credits so that American taxpayers get real clean energy for their money."[3]
  • Sugarcane ethanol in Brazil a substantial pollution source, 27 December 2011 by Western Farm Press: "University of Iowa researchers and their colleagues have shown that ethanol fuel producers in Brazil — the world's top producer of ethanol from sugarcane as an alternative to petroleum-based fuel — generate up to seven times more air pollutants than previously thought."
    • "The study, titled 'Increased estimates of air-pollution emissions from Brazilian sugarcane ethanol,' is featured in the Nature Highlights section and published in the Dec. 11 advance online publication of the journal Nature Climate Change."
    • "The research team used agricultural survey data from Brazil to calculate emissions of air pollutants and greenhouse gases from the entire production, distribution, and lifecycle of sugarcane ethanol from 2000 to 2008."
    • "The estimated pollutants were 1.5 to 7.3 times higher than those from satellite-based methods, according to lead author Elliott Campbell of the University of California, Merced."[4]
  • CARB releases 2011 LCFS review report, 22 December 2011 by Ethanol Producer Magazine: "The California Air Resources Board has completed the first required formal review of the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard, a regulatory program that requires stakeholders to reduce the carbon intensity (CI) of fuels sold within its borders each year until reaching a 10 percent reduction by 2020."
    • "The reduction was modest—just .25 percent—and CARB concluded that there has been no change in the state’s air quality since the program was implemented."
    • "At issue for Midwest ethanol producers in particular is the inclusion of indirect land use change (ILUC) in the methodology used by CARB to calculate a fuel’s CI."
    • "In the report, CARB said that while the inclusion of ILUC in its model could make it more difficult to harmonize the LCFS with other regional emissions programs that do not require ILUC calculations, it does not plan to alter its program at this time."
    • "It will also not consider any changes to the CI values on a set schedule, but rather will evaluate new information as it becomes available."[5]
  • DOE Researchers Achieve Important Genetic Breakthroughs to Help Develop Cheaper Biofuels, 22 December 2011 by "Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) announced today a major breakthrough in engineering systems of RNA molecules through computer-assisted design, which could lead to important improvements across a range of industries, including the development of cheaper advanced biofuels."
    • "This will enable scientists to develop new strains of Escherichia coli (E. coli) that are better able to digest switchgrass biomass and convert released sugars to form three types of transportation fuels – gasoline, diesel and jet fuels."
    • "While the work at JBEI remains focused on the development of advanced biofuels, JBEI’s researchers believe that their concepts may help other researchers to develop many other desired products, including biodegradable plastics and therapeutic drugs."[6]
  • Are Biofuels the Best Use of Our Limited Land Resources?, 21 December 2011 by "About seven million tonnes of grain corn was grown in Ontario in 2011, and by year’s end roughly 30 per cent of that is expected to go toward ethanol fuel production."
    • "Let’s focus instead on the use of corn as part of a greenhouse-gas reduction strategy that returns more economic value per harvested bushel. Through this lens, is biofuel production the best use of a renewable but also land-limited resource?"
    • "Corn, after all, doesn’t have to be made into ethanol and burned in the gas tanks of our cars to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. It can also be used to make a variety of 'green' chemicals that form the basis of a wide variety of products currently made from petroleum-based chemicals."
    • "This isn’t just about corn; it’s also about how we choose to use agricultural residues, municipal organic waste, wood waste, algae biomass, and non-food crops."
    • "Does it make sense to just burn this material for energy, or convert it into fuel so it can be burned? Or, should we be doing a better job of targeting niche markets with high-value 'green' products that are just as effective at reducing our dependence on fossil fuels?"[7]
  • Call for an effective implementation of the Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) issue in the EU biofuels policy, 21 December 2011 by E-Energy Market: "A group of companies, trade associations and NGOs have send a letter to the commission that a practical and effective solution are needed to address the ongoing debate about Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) in European biofuels policy."
    • "The group warns that it blocks 1)Meeting EU renewables targets, 2)Helping to deliver energy security, 3)Fostering rural economic development and, 4)Developing a sustainable bioenergy system that can help towards decarbonising transport in Europe and beyond."
    • "The companies also fear the ILUC policy is counterproductive in its exclusion of certain feedstocks. The effects of banning one feedstock would lead to an increased demand of the alternative feedstock and herewith increasing the need for land."
    • "The group claims that none one of policy options being assessed encourage producers to adopt additional practices that reduce ILUC risks, nor do they improve investor confidence for biofuel development."[8]
  • IFPRI report criticised for inaccuracies, 20 December 2011 by Biofuels International: "The German biofuels association UFOP has dismissed claims in a new report carried out by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) into the predicted emissions to be created by indirect land use change policy."
    • "The UFOP says it opposes the adoption of ILUC factors specific for biofuels outlined in the report and says more investment protection needs to be given for existing biodiesel production plants around Europe."
    • "The report, which was published in November 2011 after the European Commission asked for more research to be conducted into ILUC, says proposed European biofuels mandates are 'likely to cause significant indirect land use change emissions'."[9]
  • Biomass for fuel could damage furniture industry, 17 December 2011 by Green Building Press: "Concerns have been expressed about the effect that government directives which encourage the burning of wood are likely to have on British manufacturing. Furniture Industry Research Association (FIRA) and the British Furniture Confederation (BFC) held a meeting at the House of Lords this week to launch a report commissioned by FIRA."
    • "The organisation's document focuses on the Renewables Obligation Woody Biomass Subsidy and the detrimental effect it is having on the British furniture industry...."
    • "The document outlines a series of recommendations on how the Government can ensure that manufacturers are allowed to continue business without facing the difficulty of coping with rising prices from the woody biomass subsidy distortion...."
    • "With increased costs for furniture production, it follows that furniture product prices for the consumer will also increase. This is especially poignant as the subsidy paid for burning renewable fuel is paid by consumers through their electricity bill. This means consumers are paying for a renewable energy form which distorts the market perversely against them as both a consumer and also to British manufacturing."
    • "Over its life time, burning woody biomass also emits significantly greater CO2 than wood panel manufacturing. The report suggests that the biomass subsidy should not encourage the burning of virgin wood, which could be used productively through its lifecycle, before being burnt for fuel. It suggests that furniture at the end of its lifecycle is burnt for fuel, rather than placed in landfill."
    • "In addition, the report discusses how biomass stations relying on wood imports from abroad are a threat to the world’s forests and may even increase climate-change emissions."[10]
  • The Death of Range Fuels Shouldn't Doom All Biofuels, 15 December 2011 by Technology Review: "This month, Range Fuels, one of the first companies in a wave of startups that promised cheap biofuels made from sources such as wood chips rather than corn, shut its doors for good and was forced to auction off its assets."
    • "The company failed for many reasons, but the biggest seems to be that its technology proved too expensive, something that experts say shouldn't be a surprise, since it was similar to other technologies with well-known problems...."
    • "Range Fuels, which had planned to turn wood chips into ethanol, received substantial attention in 2006, after President Bush declared in his State of the Union Address that the United States was 'addicted to oil' and pointed to 'cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from corn, but from wood chips and stalks, or switchgrass.'"
    • "By the following year, Range Fuels had received a $76 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy and had broken ground on a commercial-scale plant in Soperton, Georgia. That plant was designed to produce 20 million gallons of fuel a year at first, and eventually 100 million gallons...."
    • "The Range Fuels plant produced some methanol in 2010, but it operated at a loss, and it was shut down in 2011...."
    • By early 2011, even Vinod Khosla, the prominent investor who provided seed funding for Range Fuels and who had written enthusiastically about the company during its early days, was criticizing the company's basic technology. 'In our view, the traditional path of chemical catalysis of syngas to fuels (be it ethanol or Fischer-Tropsch synthesis) appears economically challenging,' he wrote in January. 'Technologies like Range that started with chemical catalysts will need to switch over to these newer fermentation techniques.'"[11]
  • EPA Issues Notice of Data Availability Concerning Renewable Fuels Produced from Palm Oil Under the RFS Program, December 2011 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: "he U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is issuing a Notice of Data Availability (NODA) to release its lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) analysis of palm oil used as a feedstock to produce biodiesel and renewable diesel under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program. The release of the NODA provides the public an opportunity to comment on EPA’s analysis."
    • "EPA’s analysis shows that biodiesel and renewable diesel produced from palm oil do not meet the minimum 20% lifecycle GHG reduction threshold needed to qualify as renewable fuel under the RFS program...."
    • "EPA’s analysis highlights a number of key factors which contribute to the lifecycle emissions estimate for biofuels based on palm oil. For example, palm oil production produces wastewater effluent that eventually decomposes, creating methane, a GHG with a high global warming potential. Another key factor is the expected expansion of palm plantations onto land with carbon-rich peat soils which would lead to significant releases of GHGs to the atmosphere."
  • The Cellulosic Ethanol Debacle, 14 December 2011 by Wall Street Journal: "To launch this biofuel industry, the feds under Mr. Bush and President Obama have pumped at least $1.5 billion of grants and loan subsidies to fledgling producers. Mr. Bush signed an energy bill in 2007 that established a tax credit of $1.01 per gallon produced."
    • "Most important, the Nancy Pelosi Congress passed and Mr. Bush signed a law imposing mandates on oil companies to blend cellulosic fuel into conventional gasoline."
    • "Last year the Environmental Protection Agency, which has the authority to revise the mandates, quietly reduced the 2011 requirement by 243.4 million gallons to a mere 6.6 million."
    • "One reason the mandates can't be met is the half-dozen or so companies that received the first round of subsidies to produce cellulosic fuel never got off the ground."
    • "Because there was no cellulosic fuel available, oil companies have had to purchase 'waiver credits'—for failing to comply with a mandate to buy a product that doesn't exist."
    • "To recap: Congress subsidized a product that didn't exist, mandated its purchase though it still didn't exist, is punishing oil companies for not buying the product that doesn't exist, and is now doubling down on the subsidies in the hope that someday it might exist."[12]
  • Biofuel aspirations spur 'land grabs' that hurt the poor, says report, 14 December 2011 by "More than 40 million hectares of land has been acquired in developing countries for biofuel production in the past decade, reports a new study published by the International Land Coalition."
    • "The research looked exclusively at large land acquisitions between 2000 and 2010. These amounted to 200 million hectares of land, of which the authors were able to discern the intent for 71 million ha."
    • "Surprisingly the report, titled 'Land Rights and the Rush for Land: Findings of the Global Commercial Pressures on Land Research Project', found that food production was only the focus of less than a fifth of the land deals. Nearly 60 percent was for biofuels."
    • "The report says that while large investments in agriculture can bring benefits, 'they are more likely to cause problems for the poorest members of society, who often lose access to land and resources that are essential to their livelihoods.' The reason? The rural poor often lack rights to the land they traditionally use. Furthermore, benefits from land deals typically skew toward local elites."[13]
  • S. African Biofuel Plan May Boost Sorghum Sixfold, Grain Says, 12 December 2011 by "South Africa’s proposed mandatory blending of biofuels with gasoline and diesel may signal the start of a biofuels industry and boost sorghum output sixfold, an economist at the farmers’ body Grain SA said."
    • "The nation produced 155,000 tons in the last season, according to the Crop Estimates Committee. The average annual crop was 226,000 tons in the five years to 2006, according to a report on the National Agricultural Marketing Council website."
    • "A 2007 government proposal to establish a commercial biofuels industry was insufficient to attract investments. Sasol Ltd., South Africa’s largest fuel supplier, Ethanol Africa Ltd. and National Biofuels Group Ltd. canceled or delayed projects."
    • "South Africa could introduce mandatory blending of as much as 10 percent 'without compromising food security in terms of food availability,' he said."[14]
  • Growth Energy: Let’s base energy policy on reality, 8 December 2011 by Growth Energy: "Though we’ll always believe in Santa Claus, it’s time to finally put the Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) myth to bed."
    • "For a long time, the facts simply haven’t matched the rhetoric surrounding this theory, which claims that growing grains for biofuel production displaces other crops, leading to deforestation."
    • "...[C]heck out today’s story from Reuters showing that deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon region fell to its lowest in 23 years this past July, as ethanol production in that country and across the world continued to grow."
    • "Despite the fact that ILUC is untested, highly disputed and clearly detached from reality, an ILUC penalty was included in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. That means that corn-based ethanol cannot be considered an 'advanced biofuel,' even though it fits the bill in other aspects."
    • "It’s time to stop basing out nation’s energy policies on fairytales. The stakes are too high."[15]
  • Congress ‘lost faith’ in advanced bioenergy, key lawmaker says, 6 December 2011 by Des Moines Register: "Programs the Obama administration has been pushing to promote next-generation biofuels are likely to have little funding in the next farm bill, according to the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Collin Peterson."
    • "He said that the failure of Congress to pass legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions killed off support for agricultural energy programs."
    • "The failure of projects like the Range Fuels biofuels project in Georgia didn’t help either."
    • "Peterson also faulted environmentalists for opposing corn ethanol while promoting advanced biofuels made from non-food feedstocks such as cornfield residue, perennial grasses, or the wood chips from which Range Fuels was going to make fuel."
    • "A farm bill that the congressional agriculture committees drafted this fall would bar the Agriculture Department from providing subsidies for ethanol industry infrastructure. The bill would allow continued subsidies for farmers who provide corn cobs and other feedstocks to biofuel plants but there is no funding earmarked for the payments."[16]
  • Palm Oil-Based Biofuels Should Not Be Called Green, New Study Claims, 5 December 2011 by Jakarta Globe: "The benefits of biofuels derived from palm oil have once again been brought into question following a new report that says the reduced emissions from burning the fuel are far outweighed by the clearing of peatland forests to grow the crop."
    • "It found that for palm oil in particular, the carbon debt, or net amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result of using the crop as a biofuel, was the highest at 472.8 to 1,743.7 tons of CO2 per hectare."
    • "Louis Verchot, a Cifor researcher and co-author of the report, titled 'Implications of Biodiesel-Induced Land-Use Changes for CO2 Emissions: Case Studies in Tropical America, Africa, and Southeast Asia,' said palm oil-based biofuels that required the clearing of natural forest would never bring about a net emissions reduction."
    • "It also found that using biofuel from oil palms planted in peatlands required the longest period of time to repay the carbon debt, ranging from 206 to 220 years."
    • "The report, published in a special issue of the journal Ecology and Society, concluded that the outcomes 'raise serious questions about the sustainability of biofuel production.'"[17]
  • U.S. Biofuel Camelina Production Set to Soar, 5 December 2011 by "Biofuel sources currently under development include algae, jatropha and camelina. Of the three, camelina is increasingly emerging as the frontrunner in attracting initial investment worldwide, as global demand for aviation fuel for passenger flights is now more than 40 billion gallons annually."
    • "Camelina has a number of advantages over its competitors, including using far less water, thus allowing it to be grown on marginal land, thereby not taking food acreage out of production."
    • "Furthermore camelina has a relatively short growing season of 80 to 100 days, requires no special equipment to harvest, and the silage remaining after processing can be fed to livestock and poultry, with the added side benefit of increasing their omega-3 production."
    • "Now the U.S. Department of Agriculture has given camelina production a major shot in the arm by selecting 40 counties in Montana for a pilot program of federally backed camelina crop insurance."
    • "Among the customers lining up for camelina JP-8 aviation fuel will be the U.S. armed forces, which have spent the last two years extensively testing camelina’s suitability, with the U.S. Air Force earlier this certifying camelina biofuel for use in its fleet of Globemaster transport aircraft."[18]
  • Navy’s Big Biofuel Bet: 450,000 Gallons at 4 Times the Price of Oil, 5 December 2011 by "The Navy just signed deals to buy 450,000 gallons of biofuels — arguably the biggest purchase of its kind in U.S. government history....But at approximately $15 per gallon — nearly four times the price of traditional fuel — the new fuels won’t come cheap."
    • "The $12-million purchase, expected for months, will all be used this summer off the coast of Hawaii. There, supersonic F/A-18 jets will launch from the deck of an aircraft carrier, powered by fuels fermented from algae. A 9,000-ton destroyer and a cruiser will join it on a voyage across the Pacific, using fuel made from fats and greases."
    • "If it works, the Green Fleet will not only be poised for a full alt-fuel deployment in 2016. Mabus will be much closer to his promise of obtaining half of the Navy’s fuel from alternative sources by 2020. And the often-struggling biofuels industry will be a lot closer to proving its viability."
    • "Mabus notes that this 450,000-gallon buy — while comparatively large for military biofuels — is still tiny compared to the amount of fuel the Navy and the commercial airline industries consume. He’s promised that as the Navy buys more fuel, economies of scale will kick in, and prices will drop. But an MIT study of alternative jet fuels, conducted in association with the Navy, found that even under optimal conditions — with dozens of refineries up and running — the price of bio jet fuel would still be twice as high as the cost of the traditionally made stuff. (That study examined vegetable oil as a biofuel feedstock, and the Navy is a using different process this time around; but many of the same issues still apply, regardless.)"[19]

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