What’s Going On with America’s Gasoline?

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a proposal for changes to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) on Friday, November 15, 2013.  The proposal attempts to find the precarious balance between encouraging growth in the biofuels sector and blending more ethanol than some engines can handle safely.

The Renewable Fuel Standard passed in 2007, and, in recent years, the production of biofuels has rapidly increased.  However, gasoline demand did not meet expectations after RFS passed.  The EPA said in a statement, “We are now at the ‘E10 blend wall,’ the point at which the E10 fuel pool is saturated with ethanol.  If gasoline demand continues to decline, as currently forecast, continuing growth in the use of ethanol will require great use of higher ethanol blends such as E15 and E85.”  EPA 2014 RFS Proposal: Industries and Environmentalists React, Conway Irwin, Breaking Energy, November 18, 2013

This proposal decreases the targets for advanced biofuel and total renewable fuel than what is laid out in the Clean Air Act.

Screen shot 2013-11-15 at 4.42.27 PM

Source: EPA

This proposal is viewed as a victory, albeit a conditional one, by refiners.  They say it doesn’t go far enough.  However, it is perceived as a step back in efforts to achieve US energy security and emissions goals by biofuels and environmental groups.

The American Petroleum Institute’s president and chief executive, Jack Gerard expresses concern for American consumers and the reality of cellulosic biofuels, while lauding the EPA’s acknowledgement of the blend wall.

“EPA has acknowledged that the blend wall is a dangerous reality and that breaching it would serious impacts on America’s fuel supply and would be harmful for American consumers.

“While the agency took a step in the right direction, more must be done to ensure Americans have the choice of ethanol-free gasoline for boats and small engines, and to bring their mandates closer to reality on cellulosic biofuels, which do not exist in commercial quantities.

“Congress must protect consumers by repealing this outdated and unworkable program once and for all.” EPA 2014 RFS Proposal: Industries and Environmentalists React, Conway Irwin, Breaking Energy, November 18, 2013

The Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association’s North American Representative, Leticia Phillips expresses her disappointment that the RFS proposal minimizes the sugarcane ethanol Brazil is prepared to export to the US, and views the decreases as a step back.

“Slashing the 2014 target for advanced biofuels would be a huge step backwards from the Obama administration’s goal of decreasing greenhouse gases and improving energy security.”

“We are surprised and disappointed that EPA’s proposal minimizes the 650-800 million gallons of sugarcane ethanol Brazil is poised to supply to the United States in 2014.” EPA 2014 RFS Proposal: Industries and Environmentalists React, Conway Irwin, Breaking Energy, November 18, 2013

Other groups weigh in on the issue as well.

Novozymes President, Americas Adam Monroe

“The Renewable Fuel Standard was signed into law to break OPEC’s effects on the nation: high oil and gasoline prices, American dollars going offshore and environmental consequences our grandchildren will endure.”

“We cannot put oil’s interests before the nation’s needs. Blending more renewable fuel means more savings for consumers at the pump.”  EPA 2014 RFS Proposal: Industries and Environmentalists React, Conway Irwin, Breaking Energy, November 18, 2013

American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM):

“EPA’s recognition of the blendwall and the potential adverse effects on consumers is a welcome step, however greater reductions in the biofuel mandate are necessary if consumers are to avoid all the detrimental impacts of the statute.”

“EPA’s actions can only be short-term in nature and point to the need for Congress to work quickly in addressing the severely flawed and totally outdated Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). EPA 2014 RFS Proposal: Industries and Environmentalists React, Conway Irwin, Breaking Energy, November 18, 2013

The creators of the Solar Schools project, the Natural Resources Defense Council recognizes the depth and complications inherent in the issue. “There is no denying that the bulk of today’s conventional corn ethanol carries grave risks to the climate, wildlife, waterways, and food security,” said NRDC’s Franz Matzner in a recent blog post . “It is equally true that as a nation we need low carbon, sustainable biofuels to combat climate change and break our addiction to oil.” 

“…developing sustainable, next generation biofuels is complicated.  It’s technically and economically challenging and it’s not going to happen without ongoing course corrections to ensure the explicit goal of the Renewable Fuel Standard is met—namely to move the country away from polluting fuels like gasoline and today’s corn ethanol and toward sustainable, low-carbon alternatives.” Putting Renewable Fuels Back on Track, Franz Matzner

This isn’t an issue of black and white, do or do not.  When the RFS passed in 2007 it set goals for biofuel usage. (36 billion gallons of biofuel, including 22 billion gallons of non-corn biofuel) Putting Renewable Fuels Back on Track, Franz Matzner.  The provisions for the EPA to make ongoing adjustments were Congress’s recognition of the obstacles that would need to be overcome to reach these goals.  No matter which side you come down on, the EPA appears to be following those directives.

Ultimately, to achieve the goals of the RFS, the key will be expanding next generation fuels that can use a diversity of feedstocks guided by a smart set of policies that protect our biodiversity, food and feed supplies, and climate.  To hit the mark, the biofuels program must not require more consumption of a given feedstock than the environment can comfortably support.  Putting Renewable Fuels Back on Track, Franz Matzner

As in most complex issues, there is no easy fix or solution.  That precarious balance has to be maintained, adjustments will have to be made, and a realistic view of the current situation is crucial.  Does this provide that balance?  Is this a step backward?  Does it go far enough?

‘Til next time,

Jessica

A Different Kind of Crowdfunding Campaign: Bringing Solar Power to Schools

Natural Resources Defense Council

Natural Resources Defense Council (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I came across this article on PennEnergy.com and I just had to check it out to see what the deal was.  There is an Indiegogo campaign by NRDC to launch a clean energy pilot program in schools in the United States. How awesome is that? I am a big fan of crowdfunding in general, but before today, most of the campaigns I’ve been involved with have had more of an artistic bent. You know stuff like movies, albums…stuff like that, but as soon as I read the summary for this campaign, I just had to jump in.

The sun is a source of clean energy that we never have to worry about running out, and every time we power one of our schools with solar technology, we:

  • Help the school cut its energy costs
  • Give our kids healthier air to breathe
  • Make our communities more energy independent
  • Provide hands-on learning experiences with renewable energy, sparking student interest in science and math

That’s why we’re seeing more and more people raising their hands and saying, “I want solar for my school.”

-NRDC Indiegogo campaign

Here’s the challenge though.  Schools are always trying to stretch their budgets just a little bit further and administrators and teachers are always working to squeeze a little more time into their day.  Where are they going to find the time and resources to research and develop solar power for their school?

That’s where Solar Schools comes in.  This is a program that takes ideas from programs that help simplify a complicated process by walking you through this complex, multi-step process (like TurboTax) and networking sites (like LinkedIn) to build a community and connect them with experts in the field of solar power.  Solar Schools is all about empowering communities and schools.

The first phase of the pilot program is set to roll out in January of 2014.

Through pilot projects in 3-5 communities, we aim to prove that our new social organizing tool and dynamic guide will help communities:

  • Build their solar volunteer team quickly through friend-to-friend connections.
  • Organize and track project momentum by creating a “hub” and guide for activism.
  • Empower more parents, students and teachers as leaders – creating more project “ownership” opportunities and higher levels of volunteer engagement.

-NRDC Indiegogo campaign
 

The crowdfunding campaign through Indiegogo is to support the build-out of the Solar Schools platform, and help bring solar power to 3-5 schools around the United States during this first phase.

All of us know how important it is to spark an interest in the hearts of young people for math and science.  They could be the ones to to create the next big innovation in technology.  Maybe it all starts because they got to watch solar power at work at their school.