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RFS proposals and projects: 101

Hydrocarbon Engineering,

Calculating the RFS

Under the RFS program the EPA is required to determine, and make known, annual percentage standards of compliance for each year by 30th November of the previous year. Standards are calculated to ensure use in transportation fuel of the national applicable volumes for the following four biofuels and four separate percentage standards are required:

  • Cellulosic.
  • Biomass based diesel.
  • Advanced biofuel.
  • Total renewable fuel.

On evaluation of current figures and projections, the EPA believe that adjustments to the volumes required for next year are due to inadequate domestic supply of the above fuels. They are therefore proposing to maintain the same volume of biomass based diesel for next year and 2015 as was adopted for 2013.

Things to consider

  • The first RIN generation from the first commercial scale cellulosic biofuel facility began in March 2013.
  • As many as 12 domestic facilities have the potential to produce cellulosic biofuels at a commercial scale in 2014.
  • The EPA is proposing to maintain the applicable volume of 1.28 billion gallons for both 2014 and 2015 of biomass based diesel.
  • The EPA is proposing reductions in volume requirements for advanced biofuels and total renewable fuels next year to address concerns.

Cellulosic biofuels

2014 statute specifies a cellulosic biofuel volume requirement of 1.75 billion gallons. There has been continued progression in the cellulosic biofuel industry over the past few years and due to this the projected costs of production has fallen, aided by ongoing technology developments and operational experience. During 2014, the EPA project that the volume of new cellulosic biofuel facilities brought online will increase the sector’s production capacity by 600%.

Below is a list of domestic US companies and projected production figures for 2014:

  • Abengoa, 17 – 20 million gallons.
  • Cool Planet Biofuels, 10 million gallons.
  • DuPont, 3 million gallons.
  • INEOS Bio, 2 – 5 million gallons.
  • KiOR, 0 – 9 million gallons.
  • Lanza Tech, not online until late 2014 or early 2015.
  • Poet, 6 million gallons.
  • Sweet Water Energy, not online until mid 2014.
  • Ensyn, 0 – 3 million gallons.

There are, in addition to the above, several foreign sources of cellulosic biofuel, however, none of these facilities have successfully completed the registration process for the RFS program.

Biomass based diesel

Statute specifies that the volume of biomass based diesel produced cannot be less than the applicable level for the calendar year 2012, which is 1 billion gallons. Also, applicable volumes must be decided no later than 14 months before the year for which they will apply. Due to this and after evaluation, the EPA has decided to propose 2013 levels of 1.28 billion gallons for both 2014 and 2015.

In 2012 production of biodiesel exceeded 1.14 billion gallons and it has been reported that additional volumes above 1.28 gallons are possible this year. According to EIA figures, for the first seven months of this year, production rates were 25% above monthly production rates for the same period in 2012 and are consistent with total production volumes of at 1.6 billion gallons for 2013. Also, according to the EIA, nine additional biomass based diesel producers have become operational since the finalisation of 2013 levels. These levels, along with there being 111 biodiesel plants in 38 states as of July 2013 indicate that biodiesel levels may not be beyond reach.

Advanced biofuel and total renewable fuel

For next year, the applicable volume of advanced biofuel is 3.75 billion gallons and the volume for renewable fuel is 18.15 billion gallons. The EPA can however reduce these volumes if it reduces the applicable volume for cellulosic biofuel or if the criteria are met under the general waiver authority. There are two separate authorities that permit the EPA to reduce the volumes of advanced biofuels or total renewable fuel under certain conditions;

  • Cellulosic waiver authority.
  • General waiver authority.

Renewable fuel rates are based on the types of renewable fuel that the EPA projects are likely to be available in 2014 and the volume that is likely to be non-ethanol. The EPA feel that the ethanol blendwall represents a circumstance that warrants a reduction in the mandated volumes for 2014. This has resulted in the EPA proposing rates within the range of 15 – 15.52 billion gallons for 2014 which is under the applicable volume above. The proposed figure is accounting for limitations in the volume of ethanol that can be supplied and consumed and limitations regarding availability of non-ethanol renewable fuels.

2015 and beyond

The EPA have acknowledged that there are issues concerning the availability of the fuels that qualify for the RFS, but the consumption of ethanol is going to continue to be relevant in 2015 and beyond. It is fortunate that companies are now supporting government programs for commercial scale facilities of next generation biofuels, from construction to research and development. A similar effort on the part of the public and private sector is helping to grow the infrastructure to enable the expansion of 10% ethanol in gasoline throughout the US. Due to that, the EPA is sure that under the right circumstances, there is substantial potential for continued growth in US ethanol fuel blending and next generations biofuels. But, there is still an awareness that a number of challenges will need to be overcome to fully realise the potential that exists for increased production and consumption of renewable fuels. 

Written by Claira Lloyd.

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