US may have to rethink biofuels mandate - senator

23 April 2008 20:13  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--The US may have to reconsider its new biofuels mandate because of the inflationary impact corn-based ethanol production is having on food prices, a leading Senate energy legislator said on Wednesday.

Senator Pete Domenici (Republican-New Mexico), ranking member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said that Congress may have to revise the biofuels mandate that was signed into law in December last year because ethanol-driven demand for corn “is damaging to the food chain”.

Domenici, who previously chaired the Senate energy panel, said at a press conference that “I think we ought to take another look at corn-based ethanol and see where changes, if any, could be placed that would take some of the burden off corn prices”.

In the energy bill signed into law on 19 December last year by President George Bush, the US is to increase its biofuels production and consumption to 36bn gal/year by 2022, with 15bn gal of that total to be made up with corn-based ethanol.

Current US bio-ethanol production is entirely corn-based and at some 8bn gal/year.

Corn-based ethanol recently has come under attack with critics charging that growing ethanol-driven demand for corn has contributed to sharp increases in corn and other food grains worldwide.

Earlier this month, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown warned in a letter to the leaders of other industrialised nations that demand for biofuel crops such as corn, soy and palm oil is causing reductions in other food crops and that biofuel production goals perhaps should be reconsidered.

Brown said the matter should be on the agenda at the coming July meeting of the G-8 nations in Tokyo. The impact of biofuels demand on food prices also has been raised recently by the UN and the World Bank.

Domenici said he does not think that second-generation biofuels production - cellulosic ethanol technology that is still in development but will use non-food biomass feedstock - “is going to be as damaging to the food chain as what we’ve already done” in boosting the corn-ethanol mandate for 2022.

He said he will ask Senator Jeff Bingaman (Democrat-New Mexico), chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, to schedule a hearing on whether the 2007 energy law’s biofuels mandate needs to be altered in the interest of food supplies.

Bingaman already has said the biofuels mandate in the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act is flawed and may cause fuel shortages because there might not be sufficient infrastructure to blend more corn ethanol into the US transportation fuels mix.

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


By: Joe Kamalick
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