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By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) will hold a webinar on December 13, 2022, on the “SAF Grand Challenge Roadmap: Soaring Towards Sustainable Fuel Production Goals.” Attendees will learn about the six action areas that support the Grand Challenge’s goals of:

  • Reducing life cycle greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 50 percent compared to conventional fuel;
  • Producing enough sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) to meet 100 percent of aviation fuel demand by 2050; and
  • Enhancing fuel sustainability.

The webinar will feature the director of BETO and speakers from DOE and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, who will discuss engaging with industry to achieve these goals. Speakers will include:

  • Valerie Reed: Director, BETO;
  • Zia Haq: Senior Analyst, BETO;
  • Craig Brown: Bioenergy Systems Technical Integration Lead, National Renewable Energy Laboratory; and
  • Mark Shmorhun: Technology Manager, Systems, Development, and Integration, BETO.

Registration is now open.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
On November 21, 2022, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a Science & Tech Spotlight on biorecycling of plastics. Biological recycling, or biorecycling, is an emerging technology that uses microbes, such as bacteria or fungi, to break down plastic into its basic components for reuse. GAO states that research suggests that biorecycling of plastics could help promote a circular economy in which plastic waste is continuously reincorporated into new products. According to GAO, entities seeking to engage in biorecycling could face a “complicated legal landscape” that may pose a challenge for the emerging technology. At the federal level, depending on the specifics of the process, aspects of biorecycling or the wastes that may result from that process might be governed by statutes such as the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), and the Microbial Products of Biotechnology Rule. In addition, states, tribal organizations, municipalities, and other stakeholders, including nonprofit organizations, businesses, and other entities, can also play important roles in regulating or supporting recycling in the United States.
 
Opportunities from biorecycling of plastics include:

  • Economic, environmental, and health gains. Biorecycling of plastics could help promote a circular economy by turning waste into more useful products while reducing dependence on fossil fuels for new plastics. Emerging recycling methods could help mitigate the negative health effects of incinerating plastic waste; and
  • Processing efficiency. Biorecycling does not require the same level of sorting for plastic waste compared with mechanical recycling, thereby saving time and money. It also consumes less energy than mechanical and some chemical recycling methods.

GAO identified the following challenges:

  • Implementation costs. Recycling plastics is generally more expensive than creating new plastics. Further, companies may face high start-up costs to develop a biorecycling facility;
  • Limited applicability. The enzymes researchers have identified are currently limited to degrading only a few types of plastic; and
  • Knowledge gaps. Research is needed to address the unintended consequences of biorecycling. For example, researchers have not assessed the risks engineered enzymes might pose if released into the environment.

According to GAO, policy context and questions include:

  • What aspects of biorecycling could be prioritized to help reduce the accumulation of plastic waste and its economic and environmental effects?
  • To what extent do current laws and regulations appropriately address concerns regarding the industrial use of engineered enzymes for biorecycling, while still allowing for their development?
  • What steps could the federal government, states, municipalities, and other stakeholders take if they want to support or implement effective policies for biorecycling of plastic waste?

GAO states that it meets Congressional information needs in several ways, including by providing oversight, insight, and foresight on science and technology issues. GAO notes that it also provides targeted assistance on specific science and technology topics to support Congressional oversight activities and provide advice on legislative proposals.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report on November 3, 2022, entitled Renewable Fuel Standard: Actions Needed to Improve Decision-Making in the Small Refinery Exemption Program. The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) requires that gasoline and diesel fuels be blended with a minimum volume of renewable fuel. Small refineries can petition the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) annually for an exemption from their RFS obligations based on disproportionate economic hardship. EPA must evaluate small refinery exemption petitions in consultation with the Department of Energy (DOE). Congressional requesters asked GAO to review issues related to EPA’s and DOE’s implementation of the small refinery exemption program. GAO examined the information, policies, and procedures EPA and DOE use to make decisions about exemptions and the extent to which exemption decisions are timely. GAO analyzed data and documents related to exemptions from 2013 through 2021 and interviewed agency officials and industry stakeholders.
 
According to GAO, EPA does not have assurance that its decisions about small refinery exemptions under the RFS are based on valid information. In addition, EPA and DOE do not have policies and procedures specifying how they are to consult about and make exemption decisions.

  • Information. Small refinery exemption decisions for compliance years 2019 through 2021 were based on an EPA conclusion that small refineries do not experience disproportionate economic hardship from the RFS. GAO states that this conclusion relies on a potentially flawed assumption -- that all parties pay and receive one price for the tradable credits used to demonstrate compliance with the RFS. GAO found that EPA has not analyzed whether this assumption is valid. GAO’s analysis showed that small refineries have paid more on average for compliance credits than have large refineries. Without reassessing its conclusion, EPA does not have assurance that its small refinery exemption decisions are based on valid information.
     
  • Policies and procedures. According to GAO, EPA has generally documented its decisions. EPA has no policies or procedures for how it assesses petitions and makes exemption decisions, however. Similarly, DOE does not have policies or procedures for how it provides consultation to EPA. GAO states that administration of the program has been inconsistent, and the number of exemptions granted and denied has varied from year to year. Consequently, agency decisions appear ad hoc, resulting in market uncertainty. This can harm small refineries and renewable fuel producers by undermining their ability to plan for infrastructure upgrades and renewable fuel demand.

GAO states that EPA has routinely missed the 90-day statutory deadline for issuing exemption decisions and does not have procedures to ensure that it meets these deadlines. In five of the nine years GAO analyzed, EPA took more than 200 days to issue a decision for more than half of the petitions submitted. According to GAO, these late decisions diminish the benefit of exemptions, create market uncertainty, discourage investment, and undermine the design of the RFS more broadly.
 
GAO made seven recommendations, including that EPA reassess its conclusion that all small refineries recover their RFS compliance costs in the price of the gasoline and diesel they sell; that DOE and EPA develop documented policies and procedures for making small refinery exemption decisions; and that EPA develop procedures to ensure that it meets deadlines. DOE agreed with GAO’s recommendations. EPA disagreed with one recommendation and partially agreed with the others. GAO “maintains that the recommendations are valid.”

Tags: RFS, Biofuel, DOE

 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
On November 1, 2022, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced 26 Safer Choice Partner of the Year award winners, recognizing their achievements in the design, manufacture, selection, and use of products with safer chemicals. The awardees represent a wide variety of organizations, including small- and medium-sized businesses, women-owned companies, state and local governments, non-governmental organizations, and trade associations.
 
EPA encouraged applicants for the 2022 awards to show how their work advances environmental justice, bolsters resilience to the impacts of climate change, results in cleaner air or water, or improves drinking water quality. According to EPA, many of the organizations being recognized are working to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and combat the climate crisis. For example, several winners offer products with concentrated formulas that reduce water consumption and plastic use. This practice also lowers GHG emissions by reducing the amount of product that must be transported.
 
EPA states that additionally, many awardees increased access to products with safer chemical ingredients in underserved and overburdened communities. For example, one nonprofit winner conducted targeted outreach in both English and Spanish to promote safer cleaning techniques and products, including Safer Choice-certified products, in food trucks. Many of these businesses are owned and operated by immigrant entrepreneurs. Another winner made its Safer Choice-certified product line more accessible to lower income shoppers by offering affordable prices and making these products available at retailers that often serve low-income communities.
 
In early 2023, EPA intends to build on this work by announcing a grant opportunity for projects that can increase supply and demand for safer, environmentally preferable products such as those certified by the Safer Choice program or identified by EPA’s Environmentally Preferable Purchasing program.
 
The 2022 winners include:

  • American Cleaning Institute, District of Columbia;
  • The Ashkin Group, LLC, Channel Islands Harbor, California;
  • Bona US, Englewood, Colorado;
  • Case Medical, Bloomfield, New Jersey;
  • Church & Dwight Co., Inc., Ewing, New Jersey;
  • Clean Safety & Health in Food Trucks (CleanSHiFT) Team, Seattle, Washington;
  • The Clorox Company, Oakland, California;
  • Colgate-Palmolive, New York, New York;
  • Design for the Environment Logo Redesign Coalition: Environmental Defense Fund, The Natural Resources Defense Council, The Clorox Company, The Procter & Gamble Company, and Reckitt;
  • Dirty Labs Inc., Portland, Oregon;
  • ECOS, Cypress, California;
  • Grove Collaborative, San Francisco, California;
  • The Hazardous Waste Management Program, Seattle, Washington;
  • Holloway House, Inc., Fortville, Indiana;
  • The Home Depot, Atlanta, Georgia;
  • Household & Commercial Products Association, District of Columbia;
  • Jelmar, LLC, Skokie, Illinois;
  • Lemi Shine, Austin, Texas;
  • LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, San Francisco, California;
  • Mother Africa, Kent, Washington;
  • Novozymes North America, Raleigh, North Carolina;
  • The ODP Corporation, Boca Raton, Florida;
  • The Procter & Gamble Company, Cincinnati, Ohio;
  • PurposeBuilt Brands, Gurnee, Illinois;
  • Sensitive Home, Greenbrae, California; and
  • Solutex, Sterling, Virginia.

 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) announced on October 19, 2022, the release of a report finding that life cycle assessments (LCA) of transportation fuels are valuable tools for measuring environmental impacts, but uncertainties remain in the current models and further research should be conducted to strengthen their reliability. The report recommends ways to improve models, increase reporting and transparency, perform targeted verification of emissions, and other avenues that will better inform policymaking for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from transportation fuels. According to NASEM, LCAs have been increasingly applied in the development of transportation fuel policy to estimate and help reduce GHG emissions from fuels such as electricity, biofuels, synthetic fuels, and hydrogen. NASEM states that the report finds that there is no single LCA method capable of answering all questions related to the climate impacts of a transportation fuel, and that both attributional LCA (ALCA) and consequential LCA (CLCA) have important roles to play. CLCA, which considers the consequences of a policy or decision, such as the market effects of production changes, should be used to understand wide-ranging impacts of proposed changes on net GHG emissions. ALCA, which assigns portions of observed environmental impacts from human activities to specific goods and services, can be used to attribute emissions in well-defined supply chains and help identify opportunities to reduce carbon intensity throughout that supply chain. Hybrid methods that use a combination of process-based and economic input-output methodologies can also be useful in some circumstances. In all cases, modelers should provide transparency, justification, and sensitivity or robustness analysis for modeling choices.
 
NASEM notes that the report contains a number of other findings and recommendations for assessing the emissions of specific transportation fuels and their feedstocks, including the following for biofuels:

  • Study of land use changes from biofuels has been the topic of intense study over the last decade. Substantial uncertainties remain on key components of the models used to assess the impacts. More research into this area should be supported; and
  • Biofuel production facilities typically produce additional products. The distinction between what qualifies as a co-product, byproduct, or waste can be unclear, creating uncertainty in LCA models.
Tags: NASEM, LCA, GHG, Biofuel

 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
On October 28, 2022, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Business-Cooperative Service (RBCS) and Rural Utilities Service (RUS) announced a request for information (RFI) and notice of public listening sessions on how to implement newly allocated funding opportunities under the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). 87 Fed. Reg. 65188. It is anticipated that these funds will support new projects related to rural electric system resiliency, biofuels, renewable energy technologies, and more. USDA requests comments on specific questions in the RFI, as well as on any other topics relevant to implementation. Written comments are due November 28, 2022. USDA will also host two public listening sessions:

  • November 3, 2022, focused on IRA Sections 22001, 22002, and 22003. The two-hour listening session is aimed at renewable energy generation providers, distribution utilities, transportation fueling facilities, fuel distribution facilities, environmental advocates and other environmental groups, and other federal agencies; and
     
  • November 4, 2022, focused on IRA Section 22004. The two-hour listening session is aimed at electric cooperatives, environmental advocates, and other environmental groups.

Registration is required.


 

This week’s All Things Chemical® podcast will be of interest to readers of the B&C® Biobased and Sustainable Chemicals Blog. This episode features a conversation between Lynn L. Bergeson, Managing Partner, Bergeson & Campbell, P.C. (B&C®) and Dr. Claire Skentelbery, Director General, EuropaBio -- The European Association for Bioindustries. Many know Claire from her prior role as Director General of the Nanotechnology Industries Association, where she energized that Brussels-based trade association to new and exciting heights. Claire has brought her considerable scientific, science policy, and trade association management skills to EuropaBio at an exciting time, as biotechnology is widely recognized to be a pivotal component of the European Union’s (EU) commitment to sustainability. Lynn and Claire cover a lot of territory in this conversation and discuss evolving perceptions of biotechnology in the EU, how biotechnology is advancing the EU’s commitment to sustainability and circularity, and what’s next for biotech advocacy in the EU.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced on October 21, 2022, that it recently reviewed a corn plant and a potato plant that were modified using genetic engineering to determine whether they present an increased pest risk as compared to unmodified plants. APHIS has posted its Regulatory Status Review (RSR) responses on its website, as required under 7 C.F.R. Part 340. According to APHIS, the corn plant, from Infinite Enzymes, Inc., was modified to produce the enzyme manganese peroxidase in corn seed and to make it resistant to the herbicide glufosinate. The potato plant, from J.R. Simplot Company, was modified to make it resistant to potato late blight and potato virus Y and to alter the potato tuber’s sugar profile and quality.
 
According to APHIS, in both cases, it “found these plants unlikely to pose an increased plant pest risk compared to other cultivated corn and potato plants.” As a result, they are not subject to regulation under 7 C.F.R. Part 340. From a plant pest risk perspective, these plants may be safely grown and used in breeding in the United States. APHIS notes that its responses are based on information from the developers and its own:

  • Familiarity with plant varieties;
  • Knowledge of the traits; and
  • Understanding of the modifications.

Under 7 C.F.R. Part 340, developers may request an RSR when they believe a modified plant is not subject to regulation. APHIS reviews the modified plant and considers whether it might pose an increased plant pest risk compared to a nonregulated plant. If its review finds a plant is unlikely to pose an increased plant pest risk relative to the comparator plant, APHIS issues a response indicating the plant is not subject to the regulations.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
On October 6, 2022, the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) announced the availability of a report entitled Update on Potential of Biofuels in Shipping, updating a previous study developed by EMSA on biofuels and examining the full range of biofuels from the perspective of current production capacity, storage and distribution infrastructure, and power-generation technologies. According to EMSA, the report also features techno-economic analyses and includes risk-based case studies to evaluate the potential of biofuels for the maritime sector. According to EMSA, among the broad spectrum of technology and fuel-solution pathways available for ship designers, builders, owners, and operators, biofuels potentially offer medium- and long-term marine fuel alternatives that can enter the market relatively quickly; they also offer the potential, if sustainability criteria are met, to reduce carbon output compared to traditional carbon-based fossil fuels. EMSA notes that although the current use of biofuels in marine-engine applications is very limited, there is significant potential for biofuels to capture a larger share of the total maritime fuel consumption and support the European Union (EU) and International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) greenhouse gas (GHG)-reduction ambitions for the maritime industry. EMSA states that “[r]ecent regulatory developments in the EU covering GHG emissions and the lifecycle aspect of fuels provide a basket of measures in line with the climate goals that could accelerate their adoption.” The “drop-in” characteristics of biofuels -- the possibility to replace conventional petroleum-refined hydrocarbons without substantial modifications to engines, fuel tanks, pumps, or supply systems -- may offer “an immediate, attractive and cost-effective solution, for the existing fleet.”


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Biotechnology Risk Assessment Research Grants (BRAG) program supports the generation of new information that will assist federal regulatory agencies in making science-based decisions about the environmental effects of introducing genetically engineered organisms. In an October 27, 2022, technical assistance webinar, staff will provide an overview of the program, which is jointly administered by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and Agricultural Research Service (ARS), and discuss details included in the fiscal year (FY) 2023 Request for Applications (RFA). NIFA plans to invest $5.5 million in this funding opportunity, which supports applied and/or fundamental research relevant to environmental risk assessment, including biological risk, and the federal regulatory process. Applications may be submitted by any U.S. public or private research or educational institution or organization. The closing date for grant applications is January 19, 2023. Registration for the webinar is required.


 
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