US energy study suggests renewables unattainable

11 September 2007 20:21  [Source: ICIS news]

Study says biofuel mandate difficult to attainBy Joe Kamalick


WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--The Energy Department warned on Tuesday that a congressional mandate to replace 25% of US transportation fuel and 25% of electric power with renewables by 2025 could be disruptive and is probably unattainable.


The department’s independent analytical agency, the Energy Information Administration (EIA), said that a policy objective to replace one-quarter of motor fuels and electric power with alternative and renewable sources in 18 years would require major technologies that are not now available and whose development remains uncertain.


The administration conducted the study at the request of Senator James Inhofe (Republican-Oklahoma), ranking member on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.


That committee and others in Congress are considering various bills meant to shift more US energy use to renewable fuels such as corn-based ethanol and away from foreign-sourced oil and natural gas.


Among those bills are some seeking a so-called “25-by-25” mandate that would require electric utilities and the transportation sector to each achieve a 25% reduction in fossil fuels use by 2025.


“To comply with the twin 25-by-25 mandates, it will be necessary for electricity and motor fuel producers to dramatically increase their use of technologies that play a relatively small role in today’s energy markets,” the administration said.


For example, the administration report to Inhofe said, “the amount of ethanol and biodiesel needed to comply with [the 25% substitution] would require more than a 12-fold increase from 2005 levels”.


US ethanol production in 2005, which was solely corn-based, was about 5bn gallons. A 12-fold increase from that level would require output of 60bn gal/year by 2025.


To reach that goal in transportation fuels, the administration said, “would require successful development and rapid deployment of new technologies, such as … cellulosic ethanol plants, that currently are not commercially available”.


The study also cautions that such a massive commitment to bio-energy resources would have significant impact on agricultural markets and put upward pressure on food and feed prices worldwide.  In addition, a major shift to biofuels would require substantial capital investments in the national fuel distribution and retail supply system and rapid market penetration by flex-fuel vehicles.


Such costly hurdles, the study said, could limit the development and deployment of renewable energy technologies, “making the proposed mandates much more disruptive and possibly unattainable”.


The full 86-page EIA study is available on the Energy Department Web site.

By: Joe Kamalick
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