Cellulosic official says ‘damage already done’ with RFS proposal

By Sara Wyant

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, April 9, 2014 - A top executive in the cellulosic biofuel industry says farmers as well as manufacturers will lose a major economic opportunity if EPA adopts the blending requirements proposed for 2014 under the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

The RFS proposal under consideration by the agency would “cap the ultimate potential of biofuels,” Jan Koninckx, the director of global business for biorefineries for Dupont, told Agri-Pulse after he testified in front of the Senate Committee on Agriculture Tuesday. EPA officials “really want to do the right thing,” he said. “But this proposal is not helping the biofuel industry and, by extension, it is not helping American farmers.”

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DuPont has under construction in Nevada, Iowa, a cellulosic biofuel plant that will be capable of producing 30 million gallons annually, using locally harvested corn stover as feedstock. It is one of three, commercial-scale cellulosic plants set to open in the U.S. this year.

The cellulosic biofuel requirement has been relatively small because of the costs and delay involved in bringing the fuel made from crop residues and non-food crops to commercial-scale production. EPA proposed a 17-million-gallon cellulosic ethanol requirement for this year after reducing it from 8 million gallons to 4 million in 2013. Both are an extremely small fraction of the 1 billion gallons and 1.75 billion gallons, respectively, envisioned by EISA seven years ago.

EPA says the cutback is needed to ease market pressures created by the so-called “blend wall” - a point where gasoline supplies are not sufficient to blend the amount of biofuel required by the RFS mandates. The agency has indicated the proposal might be modified to address biofuel industry concerns before its expected release in June, but Koninckx said damage has already been done.

“People lost interest” and investment in the sector ground to a halt as soon as the reduced proposal was announced, he said. “There was already uncertainty over the new technology. Now, the EPA proposal has generated even more uncertainty.”

Koninckx said the DuPont plant in Iowa is actually a precursor to a “second wave” of advanced biofuel development.

“We're not going to be the largest producer of cellulosic ethanol,” he said. But DuPont will take the technology developed at the $200-million-plus Iowa plant and market it to others, generating volume across the nation that will subsequently bring the price of the alternative fuel down and make it widely available.

For the last four years, he said the Iowa plant has been working with hundreds of area farmers to develop an economically viable and sustainable means of producing the corn stover to be used as feedstock for the facility.

“They see the benefit; they notice yield improvement,” Koninckx said of the some 400 to 500 area farmers currently working with DuPont. “Now, I think they are really worried with what might be coming” as a result of the EPA's RFS proposal.

He says he is concerned with the “logic” EPA used to draft an RFS proposal he says will increase greenhouse gas emissions. “Given our cost of carbon, collecting feedstocks [for cellulosic biofuel] is cheaper than drilling for crude oil,” he said.

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