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By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced on January 26, 2023, $118 million in funding for 17 projects to accelerate the production of sustainable biofuels for America’s transportation and manufacturing needs. According to DOE, the selected projects, located at universities and private companies, “will drive the domestic production of biofuels and bioproducts by advancing biorefinery development, from pre-pilot to demonstration, to create sustainable fuels that reduce emissions associated with fossil fuels.” Projects selected will contribute to meeting DOE’s goal to achieve cost-competitive biofuels and at least a 70 percent reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030.
 
According to DOE, “[m]ade from widely available domestic feedstocks and advanced refining technologies, energy-dense biofuels provide a pathway for low-carbon fuels that can lower greenhouse gas emissions throughout the transportation sector and accelerate the bioeconomy.” DOE notes that financing for novel biorefinery process systems can be a barrier to commercializing advanced biofuels, and states that its funding will reduce technological uncertainties and enable industry deployment. The selected projects include pre-pilot, pilot, and demonstration projects that will scale-up existing biomass to fuel technologies that will eventually create millions of gallons of low-carbon fuel annually.

Tags: DOE, Biofuel, GHG

 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) announced on January 20, 2023, that a collaborative team of BETO-funded scientists from Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) and National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) are searching for carbon utilization technologies that can make better use of the carbon dioxide generated by industry, transportation, and agriculture by transforming it into sustainable aviation fuel and other useful products. According to BETO, the goal is to identify catalysts that can make beneficial products, such as sustainable aviation fuel, efficiently and selectively. BETO states that methanol has “rich potential for uses that contribute to lower greenhouse gas emissions and help in the fight against climate change.” It can generate electricity when used for fuel cells, serve as a heating fuel for boilers, or be used as a sustainable or blended fuel for road, marine, or (potentially) aviation. Additionally, methanol is used as a chemical industry feedstock for the synthesis of formaldehyde, acetic acid, and other health and life sciences products. BETO notes that the long-term challenge of the research will be scaling up scientific findings into commercial applications. With atmospheric carbon dioxide levels on the rise, “innovative research that finds ways to transform CO2 in the atmosphere into something positive is more important than ever.”


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) announced on December 15, 2022, that it intends to issue two funding opportunity announcements (FOA) in early 2023. According to BETO, these potential FOAs, “Reducing Agricultural Carbon Intensity and Protecting Algal Crops” (RACIPAC) and the “2023 Conversion R&D,” will enable the sustainable use of domestic biomass and waste resources to produce biofuels and bioproducts, and to advance the Biden Administration’s goal of delivering an equitable, clean energy future that puts the United States on a path to achieve net-zero emissions, economy-wide, no later than 2050. The prospective RACIPAC FOA would support high-impact research and development (R&D), focusing on reducing the carbon intensity of agricultural feedstocks, improving soil carbon levels, and protecting cultivated algae from pests under two areas of interest:

  • Climate-smart agricultural practices for low carbon intensity feedstocks; and
  • Algae crop protection.

The prospective 2023 Conversion R&D FOA would support the development of technologies that convert domestic lignocellulosic biomass and waste resources, including industrial syngas, into affordable biofuels and bioproducts that significantly reduce carbon emissions under two main areas of interest:

  • Overcoming barriers to syngas conversion; and
  • Strategic opportunities for decarbonization of the chemicals industry through biocatalysts.

According to BETO, both potential FOAs will help to meet the goals of the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Grand Challenge, which are to reduce aviation emissions by 20 percent by 2030 and produce sufficient sustainable aviation fuel to meet 100 percent of domestic aviation demand by 2050.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
On December 2, 2022, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a final rule determining that renewable diesel, jet fuel, heating oil, naphtha, and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) produced from canola/rapeseed oil via a hydrotreating process all meet the lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction threshold of 50 percent required for advanced biofuels and biomass-based diesel (BBD) under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program. 87 Fed. Reg. 73956. EPA states that based on the analyses described in the earlier notice of proposed rulemaking associated with this action, it is adding these pathways to the list of approved pathways in the RFS regulations, making them eligible to generate Renewable Identification Numbers (RIN), provided they satisfy the other definitional and RIN generation criteria for renewable fuel specified in the RFS regulations. EPA also amended the RFS regulations by adding a new definition of “canola/rapeseed oil.” The final rule was effective on January 3, 2023.

Tags: RFS, GHG, Biofuel, BBD

 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
On January 3, 2023, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the release of a draft document entitled Biofuels and the Environment: Third Triennial Report to Congress (External Review Draft) for public comment. 88 Fed. Reg. 72. EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD) and Office of Air and Radiation (OAR), in consultation with the U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Energy (DOE), prepared the document. The draft report is responsive to Section 204 of the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA). The purpose of the report is to examine the effects of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) Program on the environment, including the impacts to date and likely future impacts to the nation’s air, land, and water resources. It focuses on the dominant biofuel sources in the United States: (1) domestic corn ethanol from corn starch; (2) domestic biodiesel from soybean oil; (3) domestic biodiesel from fats, oils, and greases (FOG); and (4) imported ethanol from Brazilian sugarcane. The draft report concludes that the RFS Program likely played a relatively minor role (0-0.4 billion gallons per year) in the growth of corn ethanol in the United States from 2002-2012 and may have played a more important role (0-2.1 billion gallons per year) since 2013. According to the draft report, the more prominent role of the RFS Program on corn ethanol production in the United States in more recent years is consistent with the methyl-tert-butyl-ether (MTBE) phaseout by 2006, expiration of the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC) at the end of 2010, and lower oil prices after 2015. For biodiesel and renewable diesel, which may be produced from a variety of feedstocks (e.g., soybean, FOGs), the draft report states that the conclusion on the attributional effect of the RFS Program is different. There is evidence that the RFS Program has driven a significant portion of the use of these biofuels since 2010; there is insufficient information available to quantify the attributional effect of the RFS Program, however. The draft report notes that despite the finding of relatively modest effects of the RFS Program nationally for the environmental impacts assessed, these may have important cumulative impacts on the environment. The draft report states that international effects associated with imported biofuels are even more uncertain than national effects but are likely modest as well given the relatively small quantity of imports relative to domestic biofuel production since the RFS Program went into effect.
 
The draft report reinforces the broad conclusions from the first and second Reports to Congress on biofuels in general and further evaluates attribution of those effects to the RFS Program more specifically. According to the draft report, biofuels continue to have the potential for both positive and negative environmental effects, depending on the many factors identified in the report. The draft report notes that at the time of writing, the likely future effects of the RFS Program are highly uncertain. The first and second Reports to Congress “had the benefit of statutory biofuel volumes established by EISA as a guideline for the likely future,” but these statutory volumes ended in 2022. EPA continues to work on issuing final annual biofuel standards under the RFS Program for future years. These standards are critical to estimating accurately the likely future effects of the RFS Program. Since these final standards for future years are not yet available, they are not included in this report. The draft report notes that several other factors contribute to additional uncertainty, including ongoing recovery from the global COVID-19 pandemic, uncertainty in the penetration of E15 in the marketplace, competition with other technologies such as electric vehicles, and continued but slow growth of cellulosic ethanol production from agricultural or marginal lands. As policy and market conditions change, so may the factors to consider and the estimate of the likely future effects of the RFS Program.
 
EPA states that it is releasing the draft document to seek review by a contractor-led peer review panel. EPA will post the external peer review panel, peer review meeting dates, and registration information on its website. Comments on the draft report are due March 6, 2023.

Tags: Biofuel, RFS

 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
On December 1, 2022, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a multi-part proposal that will build on the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program and seek to advance the priorities of energy security, less pollution, and consumer protection. The RFS “Set” proposal requests public input on required volumes of biofuel for the next one to three years and on a series of modifications intended to strengthen and expand the program. EPA states that this proposal includes steady growth of biofuels for use in the nation’s fuel supply for 2023, 2024, and 2025. EPA notes that because the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) does not include volumes after 2022, this is the first time that EPA is setting these proposed biofuel volume targets without using those outlined in statute. According to EPA, when setting biofuel volumes for years after 2022, EPA must consider a variety of factors specified in the statute, including costs, air quality, climate change, implementation of the program to date, energy security, infrastructure issues, commodity prices, and water quality and supply.
 
EPA is seeking comment on the proposed volumes and how to balance appropriately these factors so that the program works for renewable fuel growers and producers, refiners and the union workers who operate these facilities, and fuel consumers. According to EPA, because the rule is an opportunity to take a “fresh look” at many aspects of the program, EPA is also seeking comment on how the rule can intersect with continued viability of domestic oil refining assets, including merchant refineries, how best to support novel fuels like sustainable aviation fuels and clean hydrogen, and how to account for the new and updated incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act.
 
EPA will also propose new regulations governing the generation of qualifying renewable electricity made from renewable biomass that is used for transportation fuel in electric vehicles. EPA seeks comment on this new component of the RFS program that would tie electricity generation from renewable biomass into the program for the first time. EPA has posted a pre-publication version of the proposed rule. Comments on the proposed rule are due February 10, 2023.
 
EPA will hold a virtual public hearing on January 10, 2023, on its proposed rule. 87 Fed. Reg. 76194. If necessary, EPA will hold an additional session on January 11, 2023. EPA asks that all attendees register by January 3, 2023.

Tags: RFS, Biofuel

 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) has postponed the webinar originally scheduled for December 13, 2022, on the “SAF Grand Challenge Roadmap: Soaring Towards Sustainable Fuel Production Goals.” According to BETO, the webinar will take place in early 2023. As reported in our November 29, 2022, blog item, the webinar will cover 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.

 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Bioenergy Technologies Office’s (BETO) Chemical Catalysis for Bioenergy Consortium (ChemCatBio) will hold a webinar on December 14, 2022, on what is ahead for the consortium. From 2020 to 2022, ChemCatBio’s research and development (R&D) focus was on improving carbon efficiency during catalytic conversion to drive down minimum fuel selling price. ChemCatBio states that now, with three more years of funding, it aims to develop and advance biomass and waste conversion technologies for hard-to-decarbonize fuels and chemicals to achieve greater than 70 percent greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction, and to provide foundational knowledge to address risks associated with catalyst/process durability and carbon efficiency. During the webinar, ChemCatBio Deputy Director Dan Ruddy will share highlights from the last three years of consortium R&D. He will then present plans for the next three years, focusing on process integration and fuel production with engineered catalysts.


 

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
 
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

 
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