EPA sets 2012 cellulosic ethanol requirements

We have told you about cellulosic ethanol before.  Basically, it is any ethanol not made from corn, and, pursuant to a 2007 law, a certain amount of this stuff must be blended into our gasoline.  The problem is that no one knows how to make it in any commercially viable operation, even though the federal government is heavily subsidizing its “production”.

For 2010 and 2011, you, the consumer paid $10 million in “fines” (via higher gas prices) because oil companies did not blend this non-existent material into the gasoline they produced.  In spite of these facts, last week the EPA told oil companies that they must blend 8.65 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol into gasoline in 2012.

The good news here is that but for the EPA’s waiver, Congress set the amount at 500 million gallons for 2012.

The [EPA] said [December 27] that a tiny fraction-less than one-tenth of 1%-of renewable fuels required to be used in the U.S. next year will come from cellulosic biofuel, based on projected production volumes, despite a congressional target that fuel made from plant stalks and other inedible materials account for more than 3% of the total.

The bad news is that, absent a technological miracle, you will once again, be forced to pay a penalty because companies fail to blend this into gasoline.  This year, the penalty will be $1.20 per gallon for each of the mandated 8.65 million gallons of non-existent material. Last year it was only $1.13 per gallon…inflation?

Looking forward, under the law, by 2022, 16 billion gallons will need to be blended into our gasoline.  How attainable is that?  Here is what the National Academy of Sciences had to say last year.

[the target won’t be met] unless innovative technologies are developed that unexpectedly improve the cellulosic biofuels process.

Given this, wouldn’t you think that the EPA would just suspend the fines until someone actually makes this junk?  Silly me, that would be reasonable, and this, after all, is the EPA.


27 replies
  1. Dimsdale
    Dimsdale says:

    If cellulosic ethanol becomes the next “soylent green”, then it might explain how they expect Øbamacare to work!  😉

  2. Plainvillian
    Plainvillian says:

    The mountain would not come to Mohammed, but cellulose ethanol must come to EPA.  Hubris?  At least the mountain existed…. maybe.
    When will we demand that all regulations and laws have term limits or sunsets, at which time they must be reviewed for effectiveness, cost, and need with those that are ineffective and costly (EPA, Dept. Of Ed., Dept of Energy, etc.), eliminated.  No wait, that would make sense.  Never mind.

  3. ricbee
    ricbee says:

    The EPA has outlived it’s uselessness…it has now become a bete noire in our lives. It must be slain,what candidate will slay this dragon for us? Santorum says he’ll bomb Iran,will he bomb the EPA too?

  4. JBS
    JBS says:

    Great post SOS. Suspend the fines? HA!
    I was amazed the first time that the Everything’s Political Anyway agency would fine companies for not using a non-existent chimera. (redundant) I can only shake my head and wonder: How much better would the economy be if the EPA stopped all of its stupid regulations, if the Regime’s regulations were rescinded and, consumers and businesses were freed of onerous government involvement?
    Which brings me to another thought: Isn’t the SCOTUS supposed to be deciding whether a fine is a tax? If the fine is indeed a tax — which any right thinking person knows to be true — , isn’t it illegal? To me the power to tax is a murky issue; isn’t there a limit to the ability of the government to tax? Fine? Take money from people? Gotta be some limit!
    The EPA, where, everything is political, is offsetting the cost of nonexistent cellulosic ethanol onto the consumer when private industry should be researching and producing this stuff, if it is feasible.

  5. Tim-in-Alabama
    Tim-in-Alabama says:

    Because this post is not accompanied by artwork featuring an ear of corn, it might have some validity.

  6. SeeingRed
    SeeingRed says:

    This Government is (still) out of control.  The logic used to build this strawman can only be hatched in government.  Anyone sitting around a table in a private company that suggested it (the logic alone) would be fired out of a cannon.

  7. sammy22
    sammy22 says:

    Brazil has no problem making ethanol from non-corn feedstock (and uses it in large quantities in its transportation fleet). Seems like it’s over “the US head” to make the stuff.

  8. RoBrDona
    RoBrDona says:

    It is disingenuous to suggest that Brazil has come anywhere near closing the VERY REAL economic gap between ethanol and fossil fuels. They are grandstanding (at a predictable loss, including engines worn out in 25,000 miles) for the renewable energy crowd in Brussels and Washington. A look at the facts will reveal that it is a senseless policy based on crap science.   

    • Dimsdale
      Dimsdale says:

      It’s easy to make lots of ethanol when you have a climate that supports sugar cane (much more sugar efficient than corn etc.), and can raze “useless” rainforest to grow it.  When you are effectively burning food to make fuel, and legislatively cut access to huge amounts of conventional fuel, raising the price of both food and fuel for some nebulous gain in emissions, you have to eventually realize you are doing something wrong.
      And wait for the fights on ethanol processing plants, a la the fight against biomass electricity generators up here in western MA….

  9. JBS
    JBS says:

    Given a review of the online resources, the U.S. does not have a lot of area currently devoted to growing sugar cane as Brazil does. The U.S. has limited acreage suitable for growing sugar cane in Florida, Louisiana, Hawaii, Texas and a small area in California. The latitude and rainfall is not optimum. As a result,the nascent U.S. cellulosic ethanol refineries have had to find indigenous sources of biomass, such as wood and other plant material. Still, there are difficulties using biomass other than a first choice such as sugar cane.
    Maybe the technology will evolve to overcome these encumbrances. Existing engines can barely handle an ethanol blend of 10%; Brazil is blending upwards of 25% and eying higher ratios. Given the size of the U.S. transportation fleet, a much larger volume of ethanol will have to be produced to supplant current gasoline usage (2011= approx. 365 million gallons per day @ 33 mpg) Diesel is not accounted here. Wow! Without a doubt, the EPA needs to cease fining companies for not blending a non-existent substance into consumer gasoline. Of course, that would stop a huge transfer of wealth.

  10. sammy22
    sammy22 says:

    All posts I have seen complain about the 10% ethanol blend, which is “easily” handled by current engines. Who is talking about replacing all gasoline in the US with ethanol? Even Brazil is not going there (yet).

    • Dimsdale
      Dimsdale says:

      I am glad you put “easily” in quotes!  You still have lowered efficiency, and an almost Freudian attraction for water, neither of which are in the best interests of the consumer or the economy.

  11. JBS
    JBS says:

    Just about every one of my small engines has had the carburetor rebuilt due to wonderful ethanol blended fuel. The ethanol attracts water. Water corrodes the internals of fuel systems. I can only hope that my cars are faring better than my power yard tools!
    It is only a matter of time when the 10% is raised to, whatever. As the percent of ethanol goes up, the power goes down. Gasoline, wonderful fuel that it is, will only get more expensive. Remember $0.99/gal. gas? Heck, I remember $0.29/gal. gas! Never again will anyone see those prices. Gasoline will climb in price until it is too expensive to buy. What then? (Some places in Europe it is over $10 per gallon!) Like it or not, ethanol or some other fuel, is coming to power our economy and its infrastructure. I love the “yet.”
    But, the post is about the EPA’s fines for not adding cellulosic ethanol that doesn’t exist in sufficient quantities to consumer gasoline. They might as well fine everyone for not knowing what the next winning Lotto number is!
    “You can’t win if you don’t pay.” Ha, we have been paying!

  12. sammy22
    sammy22 says:

    1. The Hawaiian islands used to be giant sugar cane plantations
    2. Brazil has been at this for 36 years, and successfully so (see above).
    3. If you can’t make it you could buy it, yes?

    • Dimsdale
      Dimsdale says:

      1) the square acreage of Hawaii is trivial compared to what we would need.  See also my notes about the fight against biomass energy in lefty western MA.
      2) See my post above.  The energy of ethanol is about 2/3s that of gasoline, it is hygroscopic, and tends to freeze at lower temps (likely fixable).
      3) Yes, you could.  Yet another dependency on foreign governments.  Who knows when the next Chavez will pop up?
      We need our domestic oil, gas, nuclear etc. to buffer any foreign instabilities etc.

  13. sammy22
    sammy22 says:

    Not surprisingly, only the conservative sector of US thinking has the correct answers. You could read my link above and get another perspective. Ethanol may become another world-wide commodity like oil/corn/copper and so on. Do you really care or know where Venezuelan oil is shipped to?

    • Dimsdale
      Dimsdale says:

      Perhaps not, but at least the conservative answers are primarily based in logic and fact, versus “good intentions”, vote buying and feel good solutions (and fudged climate data!).    I did read the link, and several others.  Ethanol may indeed become a world commodity, effectively replacing the food it is derived from.  Not at the top of the “good idea list”.  As for Venezuelan oil, no, I don’t care or know where it goes.  I do care that a domestic source is not subject to the whims of other governments or used to stymie diplomacy (think: threats of closing the Striat of Hormuz).

  14. PatRiot
    PatRiot says:

    The post is about the absurdity of ideology over reality and common sense. 
    @ Sammy22 – If we throw money at countries that can produce sugar cane, they would need to clear cut their rain forests.  You aren’t suggesting that are you?

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