The White House this week released the report, "Growing America’s Fuel." The report, created by President Obama’s Biofuels Interagency Working Group, "lays out a strategy to advance the development and commercialization of a sustainable biofuels industry to meet or exceed the nation’s biofuels targets."
I have been a critic of the use of conventional biofuels (i.e., corn-based ethanol) to satisfy the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), and unfortunately, this report does little to encourage optimism that our reliance on corn as our primary source of alternative fuel is going to change anytime soon.
Although the report espouses the need for, and support of, additional next-generation biofuels, the report also indicates support for expanded corn-based ethanol production. Noting that the current RFS “has effectively placed a 15 billion gallon cap on ethanol production from corn starch as part of a new 36 billion gallon target for 2022,” the report then states that “there are opportunities to develop new markets for corn-based ethanol that can provide improved economic stability, increased rural wealth and reduced use of petroleum based feedstocks.” Thus, the report appears to question the value of capping the use of corn-based ethanol to satisfy the RFS, while also encouraging expanding the market for such products. I am all for economic stability, increased rural wealth, and reduced use of petroleum, but I remain skeptical corn-based ethanol has a proper role in achieving those goals.
Beyond that, even in identifying problems related to ethanol production, the report is a cause for concern. The report argues “As more farms and forests are utilized for biofuels production, careful consideration of feedstock production practices and location of biomass conversion plants will be required to avoid serious impacts on existing food, feed, and fiber markets and the quality of natural resources upon which we all depend on for clean air and water.” This, it seems to me, has the analysis wrong.
The better report language would be: “Because feedstock production practices and location of biomass conversion plants could seriously impact existing food, feed, and fiber markets and the quality of natural resources upon which we all depend on for clean air and water, careful consideration of using more farms and forests for biofuels production is necessary.”
Alas, no one asked me.