US Senate approves huge bio-ethanol increase

14 December 2007 00:03  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--The US Senate overwhelming approved an energy bill late on Thursday that will boost the federal mandate for biofuels production and consumption to 36bn gal/year by 2022, a nearly four-fold increase over the current standard.


The Senate voted 86-8 to approve HR-6, the “Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007,” after Democrat sponsors of the legislation stripped out a provision that would have raised taxes on domestic oil and gas production, a measure that drew major opposition from Republicans.


In addition to the new mandate for biofuels production, the bill sets a new automobile fuel efficiency standard of an average 35 miles per gallon (mpg) for cars manufactured in the US, an increase of 10 mpg over the 32-year-old current standard.


In the ethanol-boosting renewable fuels standard (FRS), the Senate bill specifies that at least 21bn gal/year of the new 2022 target of 36bn gal/year must come from cellulosic-based production.


Current US bio-ethanol production of some 7bn gal/year is wholly corn-based. The existing federal mandate for biofuels production is 7.5bn gal/year by 2012, but that target likely will be exceeded early in the new year. 


Biofuels producers said the new mandate was necessary to help advance the domestic renewable fuels industry, especially cellulosic ethanol, which uses non-food feedstock such as corn stover, grasses and wood chips.


Critics of the legislation have argued that the technology needed to bring cellulosic ethanol production to cost-effective commercial volumes has yet to be developed and is by no means certain.


Although hailed by US bio-ethanol producers, the new biofuels mandate also has been widely criticised by US refiners as unrealistic and a possible threat to hopes for increases in production of conventional gasoline fuels.


The huge new biofuels mandate has come under criticism from US cattle, poultry and other food producers on grounds that it will further increase prices for corn.


However, bio-ethanol remains heavily favoured in Congress, especially among the many members representing farm states.


The Senate bill approved by the Senate on Thursday must now go back to the House of Representatives, where likely approval is expected next week.


A spokesman for the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), the US bio-ethanol trade group, said following the Senate vote Thursday that the association is "confident the measure will pass in the House".

By: Joe Kamalick
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