US agency says cellulosic ethanol goal too high

04 March 2008 20:57  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--The new congressional mandate for US cellulosic ethanol production of 16bn gal/year by 2022 probably cannot be met because of technology hurdles and insufficient market penetration, federal energy experts said on Tuesday.

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) said in its revised annual outlook for 2008 that projected rates of technology development for cellulosic biofuels will be insufficient to meet the new target of 16bn gal/year set by Congress in energy legislation passed late last year.

In the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, Congress mandated a renewable fuels standard (RFS) totalling 36bn gallons by 2022. That total is to include 15bn gal/year of conventional corn-based ethanol and 21bn gal/year of advanced biofuels.

Congress directed that the advanced biofuels target of 21bn gal/year was to be met principally with 16bn gal/year of cellulosic ethanol along with 1bn gal/year of biodiesel and 4bn gal/year of advanced bio-based fuels from any source.

However, the administration said that “While the situation is very uncertain, the current state of the industry and our present view of projected rates of technology development and market penetration of cellulosic biofuel technologies suggest that available quantities of cellulosic biofuels prior to 2022 will be insufficient to meet the new RFS targets for cellulosic biofuels”.

As a consequence, the revised outlook said, the overall 2022 target for 36bn gal/year of domestic biofuels output from all sources will likely be short by some 3.5bn gallons and will have to be made up with imports.

Looking further, the administration said it expects US ethanol use in transportation fuels to grow from 5.6bn gal/year in 2006 to 24.3bn gallons in 2030, with 15bn gallons of that total made from corn and the 9.3bn gallons balance from cellulosic sources.

The revised outlook for ethanol consumption, said EIA, “also expects strong growth in ethanol imports after 2010, reflecting the pending expiration of the tariff on imported ethanol in January 2009”.

However, it is seen as very likely that Congress - in the midst of this election year - will extend the 53 cents/gal tariff on most imported ethanol before it expires in January 2009, meaning that imports necessary to meet the congressional biofuels mandate of 36bn gal/year by 2022 might not be available.

Bookmark Simon Robinson’s Big Biofuels Blog for some independent thinking on biofuels

By: Joe Kamalick
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