Biofuels and renewables get funding and policy makeover in the US

The US biofuel industry has been given a funding boost and a policy makeover by the US administration, guiding the nation towards a more energy independent and environmentally friendly future, say officials.

Around $1.8 billion (?1.2 billion) will be put towards commercialising biofuels and stimulating research and development of greener second generation biofuels. New biofuel policies have also been proposed that will establish the nation’s first ever greenhouse gas performance standards and are intended to increase the supply of renewable fuels. 

Under the auspices of the Biofuels Interagency Working Group, recently initiated by President Obama, the strategies are being implemented as a united effort between the Department of Agriculture (DOA), the Department of Energy (DOE), and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

’Expanding our biofuels infrastructure provides a unique opportunity to spur rural economic development while reducing our dependence on foreign oil - one of the great challenges of the 21st century,’ says secretary of agriculture Tom Vilsack. Obama has directed Vilsack to put $1.1 billion towards building new biorefineries and infrastructure as well as making current ethanol production greener.

Leading the policy reform is the EPA’s proposed new rule for a Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which should ensure only biofuels that bring net environmental benefits over fossil fuels will count towards the US target to use 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2022. However, 15 billion gallons of this comprises conventional biofuels. 

Recent studies have reported that conventional biofuels such as corn-based ethanol can have worse environmental impacts than fossil fuels. This is because processing the corn and clearing land to grow the crop releases carbon into the atmosphere. But while the US administration has called for a boost in traditional biofuel production in a bid to alleviate the nation’s dependence on imported fossil fuels, it recognises the need for better and greener advanced biofuels which are proposed to make up the remaining 21 billion gallons by 2022.

Renewable energy expert Nathanael Greene is positive about the EPA’s proposal. ’EPA has taken an important step towards getting biofuels right,’ says Greene, director of renewable energy policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council. ’Our economy and our planet can’t afford to burn fuels that will only create more pollution, but through innovation we can develop renewable fuels that are better than oil and will never run out.’

In order to make greener biofuels, the DOE has been allocated $786.5 million to research and develop second generation biomass-based diesel and cellulosic biofuels made from animal waste and non-food crops including algae. ’Developing the next generation of biofuels is key to our effort to end our dependence on foreign oil and address the climate crisis - while creating millions of new jobs that can’t be outsourced,’ says Secretary of Energy Steven Chu.  

James Urquhart