An identical downside arose with soy-primarily based fuels, as soy diverted from cooking oil to biodiesel was largely replaced with palm oil from Southeast Asia. Deforestation to supply palm oil is a serious supply of greenhouse gasoline emissions.
Nonetheless, some power analysts stay hopeful about the climate benefits of extra advanced, cellulosic biofuels.
“Definitely there are many environmental issues with corn ethanol, however turning back to oil is not the answer either,” says Jeremy Martin, a senior scientist on the Union of Involved Scientists. “Superior biofuels are an necessary part of a multipart strategy to chop emissions from the transportation sector.”
As we speak, cellulosic biofuels are nonetheless a bit participant, although they’re growing shortly; manufacturing is expected to double methanol extraction tower this yr. But they’re nonetheless lagging far behind the production ranges Congress first envisioned when it created the RFS. In 2015, production of cellulosic biofuels was 96 % beneath the original goal. Early Behind that delay is a fancy mix of factors. The technology needed to provide cellulosic biofuels at an industrial scale took longer to develop than originally anticipated, partly because the EPA was so far behind schedule on its RFS planning that the 2014 requirement wasn’t even introduced till 2015. Delays like that have spooked investors, who had been left wondering what the future marketplace for cellulosic biofuels would look like. In the meantime, the 2008 recession led to an across-the-board dip in gasoline consumption, further decreasing market opportunities.
Cellulosic biofuels have also been crowded out by corn ethanol. Gasoline refiners are only required to combine their product with about 10 p.c biofuels (the so-called “mix wall”), and they’ve fought vigorously against an increase in that requirement, claiming that the majority automotive engines aren’t outfitted to handle something extra. Ethanol has taken up most of that share, leaving cellulosic biofuels with nowhere to go; new flex-fuel automobiles that can run on a lot larger volumes of biofuel are nonetheless a small market.
“It is challenging to market biofuels past 10 % in the intervening time,” Martin said. “That most likely greater than something precipitated the difficulty with easy methods to proceed. Without an answer to the blend wall, that is a real downside for the cellulosic plants.”
One of the crucial promising developments for cellulosic biofuels is underway just exterior Ames, Iowa, the place Sarah Palin delivered her rambling endorsement of Trump last week. Right here, one of the nation’s first business cellulosic biofuel plants opened in October with a lot fanfare, together with appearances by Gov. Branstad and Sen. Grassley. The plant, operated by chemical giant DuPont, goals to convert corn “stover” (husks and other nonedible byproducts left in the field) right into a fuel that the company claims will have as much as 90 % decrease emissions than petroleum.
Jan Koninckx, director of biofuels at DuPont, says that after years of false starts his industry is finally poised to ship, at scale, a biofuel with solid environmental credentials.
“This is basically the one sensible method within the foreseeable future to considerably decarbonize transportation,” he says.
After all, some of the promising choices for climate-pleasant cars might not rely on liquid gasoline in any respect. The market for electric autos is rising by leaps and bounds. And according to Searchinger’s analysis, an acre of solar panels can produce as much as 300 instances extra vitality for automobiles than the identical acre planted with corn. Utilizing electricity as an alternative of gasoline could drastically cut greenhouse gasoline emissions and cut back America’s dependence on oil imports—without the concerns about land use.