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Biofuels Advance

Interest in biomass-based fuels has intensified since the Energy Bill was passed mandating the use of millions of gallons of advanced biofuels. At the Advanced Biofuels Workshop & Trade Show held recently in Minneapolis it was clear that the race to commercialization is on and all signs indicate progress is being made.
By Bryan Sims
Efforts are underway across the United States to develop innovative process technologies that may one day bridge the gap between first generation, or starch-based biofuels, and advanced biofuels. This sense of progress was evident at the 2008 Advanced Biofuels Workshop & Trade Show in Minneapolis in September.

Tom Bryan, vice president of communications for BBI International, opened the general session by highlighting the importance of the federal government's support of the growth of advanced biofuels production and the concurrent development of novel technologies to guide that growth. The renewable fuels standard (RFS) in the Energy Independence & Security Act of 2007 requires the use of 600 million gallons of advanced biofuels in 2009. That's just the beginning. The requirement steadily increases until it hits 21 billion gallons in 2022, guaranteeing a significant expansion and transformation within the existing biofuels industry.

Advanced biofuels in the legislation are defined as anything other than corn-starch-based ethanol that achieves a 50 percent greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction when compared with fossil fuels, whereas conventional biofuel, such as corn-based ethanol, must achieve a 20 percent GHG reduction. Cellulosic biofuels derived from nonfood-based feedstocks must achieve a 60 percent GHG reduction. The industry doesn't anticipate having difficulty meeting the increased conventional biofuel standard, however the advanced biofuel category presents a new challenge for the industry, according to Bryan. "In my mind, this mandate is achievable," he says. "There are so many research entities, scientists, start-up companies and others actively optimizing old technologies to adapt to meeting these mandates as well as those developing novel pathways for delivering cost-effective methods for producing advanced biofuels today."

The federal government targets call for a new wave of more sustainable, efficient transportation fuels. According to Bryan, the transition from first-generation to second-generation biofuels won't be easy, however, advanced biofuel technology developers can look to the success of the corn-based ethanol industry as a blueprint. "The existence of these biofuels is and will be a critical cornerstone for the development and commercialization of second-generation and advanced biofuels," he said. "The race is definitely on to produce these advanced biofuels in order to meet the targets the federal government has laid out for the emerging advanced biofuels space."

John Christianson, principal partner with Minnesota-based Christianson & Associates PLLP, provided an overview of biofuels tax laws and incentives that have been adopted over the past couple of years. His presentation touched on the Biomass Crop Assistance Program and the Rural Energy for America Program, incentives provided for in the 2008 Farm Bill. "The one takeaway I would say, is that the Farm Bill has many provisions, tax incentives, loan guarantees and so forth, that are all related to advanced biofuels," Christianson said. "If you're looking to develop an advanced biofuels project, carefully examine the provisions in the Farm Bill and see what's applicable for you to gain the most benefit."

While Christianson highlighted Farm Bill provisions, David Morris, vice president of the Institute for Local Self Reliance, talked about the Energy Bill. The impact of the new Energy Bill can't be underestimated as it supports the evolution of advanced and cellulosic biofuels, he said. "Essentially, Congress is mandating a huge increase in the production of a product that doesn't yet exist commercially and from a feedstock that doesn't largely exist either," Morris says. "That's called courage."

Like the United States, countries and societies all over the world are trying to determine what role biological resources should play in the energy, national security, environmental and economic scheme of things. Much of the expansion efforts depend on the policies that countries adopt to support this growth.

Unlike wind or solar, biomass has multiple uses such as in the textile, industrial, agricultural and construction industries. However, to grow a sustainable amount of biomass and support the growth of advanced biofuels, the United States must be mindful of the limited amount of biomass to harvest in limited land areas, according to Morris. "We're going to have to develop policies that don't divert the use of plant matter from a higher to a lower value use," he said.

Morris said that the United States and other countries must marry agricultural and energy goals in order for public policies to work. He stressed that biofuels advocates and developers should embrace the public policies laid out as advanced biofuels will be a significant foundation for the development of electric-driven motor vehicles in the future. "There's a symbiotic relationship that can be formed between the biofuels sector and the renewable energy sectors such as wind and solar energy, and there should be."

Morris believes that electricity will become the dominant transportation fuel. "A motor-driven vehicle is much more fuel efficient than an engine-driven vehicle," he said. An electrified vehicle is quiet and is nonpolluting inside of cities. Moreover, if we have millions of electrified vehicles on the road we will have sufficient electric storage capacity to overcome the Achilles' heel of renewable energy, which is its intermittency."

Every major vehicle manufacturer except Ford has announced it will be selling electric vehicles within three years. San Diego and San Francisco, among other U.S. cities, are developing citywide recharging stations to accommodate the use of electric vehicles. In addition, Congress is about to enact a $7,500 per vehicle tax credit for electric vehicles. "Compare that to the $50 per vehicle tax incentive that biofuels gets right now per year," Morris says. "That's enormous and that could very well happen as part of the 2007 Energy Bill."

Bryan Sims is a Biomass Magazine staff writer. Reach him at bsims@bbiinternational.com or (701) 738-4950.
 

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