3 reasons why biofuels are better for the USA
Now that the EPA public comment period on its most recent RFS volume proposal has closed, I thought a reminder of some of the reasons why biofuels are a key part of America’s energy future might be useful.
Biofuels increase energy security
The world is heavily reliant on oil, which means that volatile oil prices impact on everything from food to textiles and from plastics to gasoline. Oil production is becoming increasingly concentrated in fewer and fewer regions. Even countries with significant oil production are vulnerable to political instability in other oil-producing regions, as oil prices are global and price fluctuations impact local markets.
For the past five years, ethanol has made up 10% of our nation’s gasoline supply. According to the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), it would have taken 512 million barrels of crude oil to yield an equivalent amount of gasoline to the ethanol produced in the US in 2014. That means that domestic ethanol replaced more barrels of crude than our annual oil imports from Saudi Arabia. What’s more, we have enough leftover corn stalks, wood chips and trash here in the US to replace all our imported foreign oil (and more) with sustainable bioenergy. That’s equivalent to more than six Keystone pipelines
Biofuels create long-term careers for Americans
According to the RFA, the production of 14.3 billion gallons of ethanol in 2014 supported 83,949 direct jobs in the renewable fuel and agriculture industries in the U.S., as well as 295,265 indirect and induced jobs across all sectors of the economy. These jobs are created by more than 200 biofuels plants across the U.S. turning corn, agricultural and forestry residues and household waste into biofuels.
Now that commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol production is a reality here in the US, this figure seems set to increase, with significant job creation potential in biomass collection and refinery construction as well as operation. And if the potential to produce cellulosic ethanol from forestry residues and household waste were to be exploited at commercial scale, even more jobs could be added.
“As biorefineries open and get to scale, we get closer to cost competitive renewable fuels, and take another step along the way to energy independence,” said Secretary of Energy Franklin Orr during his keynote at the DOE Bioenergy 2015 conference.
Biofuels contribute to a cleaner environment
Ethanol in gasoline helps to reduce smog in big cities, keeping the air safer. And because biofuels come from renewable materials, they have less impact on climate change than gasoline. Specifically, starch-based biofuels can reduce CO2 emissions by around 30-60% compared with gasoline[i]. Cellulosic ethanol can decrease emissions even further—to the tune of 80-90%[ii]. And the contribution of starch-based biofuels to reducing CO2 emissions continues to grow as both farmers and ethanol plants continue to optimize production. In 1980 farmers produced 95 bushels of corn per acre; they now grow 160 bushels per acre while ethanol plant yields per bushel of corn have increased significantly since 1982 as shown below.
What about you? Use the comments section below to let us know your thoughts on the importance of biofuels in America’s energy future.
[i] Liska et al. (2009), Improvement in Life Cycle Energy Efficiency and Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Corn-ethanol, Journal of Industrial Ecology.
[ii] Derived from Edwards et al. (2011): Well-to-wheels Analysis of Future Automotive Fuels and Powertrains in the European Context WTT APPENDIX 2, Description and detailed energy and GHG balance of individual pathways, JEC Consortium, (based on a fossil fuel comparator of 90.3 g CO2e/MJ)
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