By: Dr. John Kyndt – Head Scientist of the Renewable Energy Program at Advanced Energy Creations Lab.
As part of the Clean Air Act, Congress is requiring EPA to regulate the transportation fuel sold in the United States to contain a certain minimum volume of renewable fuel. In its just released yearly mandate, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires that 13.95 billion gallons of transportation fuel comes from renewable sources in 2011, which corresponds to about 8 percent of domestic fuel supplies.
Further regulations will raise the volume of renewable fuel each year with the aim of reaching 36 billion gallons in 2022.
The original Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS1) in 2005 required 7.5 billion gallons of renewable fuel to be blended into gasoline by 2012. Further changes to these aims were made with the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007:
- Diesel was included in the RFS program.
- The target went from 9 billion gallons in 2008 to 36 billion gallons by 2022.
- Categories of renewable fuel were generated (e.g. cellulosic biofuel, biomass-based diesel, and advanced biofuel) and separate volume requirements were set for each one.
In addition, Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced this week that the future of transportation fuels is in new technologies that shouldn’t involve ethanol, but rather be focused on novel, commercially-viable transportation technologies, e.g. gasoline, diesel and jet fuel made from biomass and sugars.
The real breakthrough is expected to come from drop-in fuel technologies since those won’t require changing the transportation infrastructure, including refineries and pipelines.
This was also the message I received from major transportation fuel users at the recent Algal Biomass Summit in Phoenix. Major customers like Boeing, General Motors, FedEx and the US Air force all agreed that they are very open to using biofuels (especially algae-derived fuels) but it needs to be a drop-in fuel so they don’t have to change their setup.
This is understandable given the financial and time investment that has been made in engineering their technologies; however it certainly raises the bar for alternative energy technologies. Again, algae fuels are in an ideal position to supply such drop-in fuels if the research and development is pushed in the right direction.
Interestingly, EPA’s standard for the amount of cellulosic biofuel (which is derived from feedstock like wood and grasses) is lower than the statutory target. This is because EPA modifies its targets by the volume projected to be available during the following year.
Although cellulose-derived biofuels are recently being projected as the next advancement in alternative energy, based on EPA’s estimates there still wouldn’t be enough to go around at least in the coming year.
This clearly indicates that there is plenty of market space available for different biofuel sources. Technology development and investment should be accelerated and increased to move the entire renewable, sustainable energy field forward.
A recent market report shows that four forces will likely stand out to boost the growth of biofuel capacity: the role of technologically-innovative start-ups, government regulation, the role of large corporations, and oil prices.
It was concluded that the technology factor will be the primary driver for biofuel growth. It is our opinion that algae-based biofuels should not be competing with cellulosic or other biomass based fuels, but rather be seen as a synergistic solution to a growing fuel supply problem.