Has Energy Independence Lost its Luster for Biofuels?

By Kolby Hoagland | April 04, 2014

Only a couple years ago, a strong argument for the adoption and deployment of domestically produced biofuels in the U.S. was its support of our nation's energy independence. Today, that argument seems to possess less validity as energy imports continue to decrease, reaching their lowest level in two decades. Energy imports peaked in 2007 at 37.2 quadrillion Btu and made up 37% of the nation’s total energy portfolio. According to EIA estimates, energy imports dropped 33% to 24.5 quadrillion by 2012. Crude oil and petroleum products dominate the import energy market, making up 85% of net energy imports. With the growing production of U.S. crude from fracking operations, imports of oil and, thus, total U.S. imports of energy have dropped dramatically. The U.S. is becoming more energy independent, but do biofuels still have a role to play in greater energy independence?

Oil Import 2012

Yes. The U.S. continues to import 150 billion gallons of petroleum products per year from numerous countries, many of whom remain hostile to the U.S. and its allies. The amount of petroleum imported is enormous when compared to the current market penetration of the existing biofuel industry. For example, the current capacity of the fuel ethanol sector in the U.S. represents roughly 10% of total imports of oil on a gallon per gallon basis. There remains a large quantity of petroleum products from foreign origins that biofuels can and should displace in the domestic market. Yes, we are producing greater quanties of domestic oil. However, oil from fracking has a shorter well life, and do we want to invest our energy future in an unproven source in regards to longevity? A diversified energy portfolio is the wisest decision, and biofuels have a strong role to play to ensure that our energy future is secure.

I will acknowledge that using the energy independence angle to promote biofuels has lost its luster, but it has not lost its relevance.  We should continue to cite volumes of imported oil that the U.S. will continue to depend upon unless we replace those quantities with biofuels, particularly the advanced biofuels that are now coming online at a commercial scale. We must argue for a diversified portfolio that includes greater quantities of biofuels and rids us from an “all-our-eggs-in-one-basket” scenario with fracking. Beyond energy independence, domestic biofuels still have rural economic development, lower carbon rating, less hazardous, and greater economic growth opportunities as pro-biofuel argument. Society (particularly the media) has a tendency to follow what’s trending and lose sight of the the less dazzling facts. Fortunately, the data shows that there is still a significant role for biofuels to play in making the U.S. more energy independent.