Last week, Amy Ehlers, Policy Manager in BIO’s Industrial and Environmental Section, gave a presentation in the Sustainability and the Environment track at the 2010 DOE Biomass Conference in Washington, DC. The title of the panel was: A look at the effect of Federal climate change legislation on the bioenergy sector and the title of her presentation was: Advanced Biofuels Technology Trends and Policy Opportunities. The session was moderated by Liz Marshall, Resource Economist, Biofuels Production and Policy Project, World Resources Institute and other panelists included Brent Yacobucci, Specialist in Energy and Environmental Policy, Congressional Research Service, Nathanael Greene, Director of Renewable Energy Policy, Natural Resources Defense Council and Dr. Adam Liska, Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Systems Engineering, University of Nebraska.
Ms. Ehlers highlighted industrial biotechnology as the key enabling technology for producing biofuels and biobased products like bioplastics and renewable chemicals to aid in reducing our dependence on foreign sources of oil, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Industrial biotechnology is the application of life sciences to improve traditional manufacturing and chemical synthesis manufacturing processes by using micro-organisms like bacteria and fungi as well as enzymes to improve manufacturing processes and make new “biobased” products and materials, including biofuels, from renewable feedstocks. Our member companies are using this technology to improve the yield, efficiency and energy inputs in first generation biofuels production, develop new feedstocks such as purpose-grown energy crops, broaden the use of algae technologies, make advancements in end molecule diversification for fuels and increase focus on renewable chemicals and bioproducts.
Currently there are over 40 planned or pilot production biorefineries all over the United States. The total job creation potential for the biofuels industry could reach 123,000 in 2012, 383,000 in 2016, and 807,000 by 2022 if the 36 billion gallon renewable fuel standard is met. In addition, industrial biotechnology can save the world up to 2.5 billion tons of CO2 per year. EPA’s analysis for the renewable fuel standards found that cellulosic biofuels reduce emissions by 110% compared to the gasoline baseline.
However, to realize the potential of this technology, there are serious issues that need to be addressed. For example: The issue of indirect land use change needs a conclusive policy approach; cap and trade legislation needs carbon accounting for advanced biofuels; financing policy needs programs that de-risk invest and tax incentives; and to advance the technology and product diversity we need a variety of feedstocks, conversion technologies, and products to achieve relevance and sustainability.
The benefits on all fronts reach far beyond ethanol, even beyond biofuels. The integrated biorefinery is the goal. Similar to a petroleum refinery, the integrated biorefinery has one feedstock going in, multiple products coming out. The benefits are numerous: an economic business model, energy efficient facilities, lowering dependence on foreign oil, lowering fuels, products and chemicals prices, boosting regional/rural economies, creating thousands of new permanent jobs and significantly reducing green house gas emissions compared to petroleum counterparts.
Finally Ms. Ehlers recommended that as the federal and several state governments contemplate and draft comprehensive climate change legislation and regulations, it’s important to keep in mind the benefits of industrial biotechnologies, biofuels and bioproducts and not inadvertently deter commercialization of some of the most promising greenhouse gas reduction technologies ready to be deployed. Specifically, biofuels should not be reregulated in a carbon regime as they are already regulated under the renewable fuel standard and biobased products need to be recognized and treated equally as these products provide green house gas emission reduction benefits by replacing petroleum use. Also, with regard to bio-power we need to consider how biomass feedstocks used for electricity be regulated in climate legislation, will biopower feedstocks be held responsible for indirect land use change like biofuels and how this could affect feedstock pricing for biofuels and biobased products. In closing, Ms. Ehlers reminded the audience that you can’t have a low carbon future without significant contributions from the biofuels and bioproducts industries.