US House committee debates biofuel greenhouse gas emissions

06 May 2009 21:44  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS news)--Biofuels critics and advocates in the US took their arguments to Congress on Wednesday, with renewable fuel producers telling a House committee that the government’s proposal on measuring pollutants could torpedo its aim of expanding biofuels use.

Representatives of researcher groups, biofuels businesses and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) debated before the House of Representatives’ agriculture committee on the effects that measuring the indirect effects biofuels production would have on greenhouse gas emissions. 

As currently included in the federal renewable fuel standards (RFS), the EPA would consider changes to cropland resulting from farmers in the US or abroad increasing their corn or soy output for biofuels production in the agency’s evaluation of the renewable fuels’ greenhouse gas emissions. 

The RFS calls for 36bn gal of biofuels to be blended into the nation’s fuel supply by 2022.

Depending on type, the fuel must emit 20-60% less greenhouse gas than conventional gasoline before it could be blended. Biodiesel and ethanol producers using grains as feedstocks fear that their products might miss that target under the proposed measuring methods.

Margo Oge of the EPA told the committee that ignoring such indirect land use measurements would hide the true environmental impact of increased renewable fuel use.

Not including or addressing indirect emissions due to land use changes would ignore a large part of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with different fuels,” Oge said. “It would result in a greenhouse gas analysis that bears little relationship to the real-world emissions impact of the fuels.”

Representatives of  the biodiesel and ethanol industries shot back, saying the EPA was relying on inaccurate models to calculate the effects of indirect land use. 

Manning Feraci of the National Biodiesel Board (NBB) trade association told the committee that because vegetable oils account for 60% of biodiesel feedstocks, the EPA’s model could actually sink the proposed new fuel standards.

“The [RFS] volume goals simply cannot be met if vegetable oils are disqualified from the programme,” Feraci said.

Bruce Babcock, a researcher at Iowa State University’s Center for Agricultural and Rural Development, said increased biofuels production would almost certainly lead to greater farmland cultivation, but called for more research in measuring the effects outside the US.

“Economic theory and the reality of the market suggest that one response to the price increase will be increased production of corn,” he said. “Our ability to estimate changes in agricultural land use in the US due to a change in biofuels policy is reasonably good because we have been doing this for about 30 years. Our ability to estimate land use changes overseas is less precise.”

Bookmark Simon Robinson’s Big Biofuels Blog for some independent thinking on biofuels
For more information on biodiesel and ethanol, visit ICIS chemical intelligence
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By: Ben Lefebvre
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