better blends

Where the EPA’s smart new renewable fuel standards fall short

The biofuel industry says higher volumes of bioethanol are now being untapped

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A biofuel producer in Germany.
Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images (Getty Images)

The EPA has finalized its new Renewable Fuel Standards (RFS) aimed at phasing out oil used for transportation, heating, and airplanes in favor of cleaner sources. The policy was created under the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and requires transportation fuel sold in the US to contain a minimum volume of renewable fuels. Overall the policy is one of the more successful green energy policies in the US, and the new version seeks to reduce reliance on foreign sources of oil by roughly 130,000 to 140,000 barrels of oil per day over the next two years.

While there is scientific consensus on the need to reduce carbon emissions to help mitigate climate change, some in the biofuel industry think that the new standards don’t go far enough. If executed to its full potential, the policy would allow for all sectors of the biofuel industry to increase their volume and diversify the clean energy market.


Where the new standards fall short

The four categories of biofuel currently on the market are biomass-based diesel containing soybean and canola oils, cellulosic biofuel made from corn stover and wood chips, advanced biofuel made from sugarcane, and total renewable fuel made from cornstarch. The categories are nested and measured by credits where a fuel with a higher greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction threshold can be used to meet the standards for a lower GHG reduction threshold. This creates an opportunity to mix biofuels instead of relying on a single source—for example, cellulosic and advanced biofuels could be used to meet the requirements instead of using just total renewable fuel.


The RFS outlines targets for modest increases in gallons of volume for all types of biofuel except for supplemental standard biofuels, namely bioethanol blended with oil at the pump.

Bioethanol producers are currently sitting on a more than adequate supply to meet higher volumes, according to Growth Energy, a biofuel trade association. “We should be expanding market opportunities for higher blends like E15, not leaving carbon reductions on the table,” said Growth Energy CEO Emily Skor in a statement.

The association says choosing not to put that supply to good use with more ambitious targets leaves those resources untapped.

The EPA says it will continue to assess proposed regulations governing the generation of Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs), which are RFS compliance credits, for electricity made from renewable biomass that is used for transportation fuel.