Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Schizophrenic EPA wants more biofuels to cut greenhouse emissions while raising them

Headline today: U.S. Government Mandates 800,000,000 Gallons of Biodiesel by Next Year: 

 "Could cut greenhouse gas emissions by 86 percent"
"Keeping in line with the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revealed that it will need 800 million gallons of biodiesel in the United States domestic market in 2011.
The EISA "expanded" the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS2), which has volume requirements for Biomass-based Diesel, undifferentiated Advanced Biofuels and Cellulosic Biofuels. Biodiesel is the only commercially accepted U.S.-made Advanced Biofuel that fits the description of an undifferentiated Advanced Biofuel and Biomass-based diesel, and it can cut greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 86 percent when made from animal fats, agricultural oils, and waste greases.

"We applaud EPA for this announcement and for reaffirming the common sense notion that we should displace petroleum diesel fuel with Advanced Biofuels like biodiesel," said Manning Feraci, Vice President of Federal Affairs for the National Biodiesel Board
 Biofuel producers are concerned with whether these production levels can be reached due to biodiesel prices being much more expensive than regular diesel. Producers would like to see Congress pass a $1 per gallon biodiesel tax once again, since it expired last year, in order to make biodiesel more affordable." 
According to my quick & dirty analysis based on a

Thus, most of the 800 million gallons of biodiesel required for next year will need to come from "agricultural oils," which the EPA claims in this press release will cut greenhouse emissions up to 86%. Apparently, the EPA is unaware of another of it's press releases which states:

"It is important to note that biofuel production and consumption, in and of itself, will not reduce GHG or conventional pollutant emissions, lessen imports or consumption of petroleum, or alleviate pressure on exhaustible resources. Biofuel production and use must coincide with reductions in the production and use of fossil fuels for these benefits to accrue. These benefits would be mitigated if biofuel emissions and resource demands augment, rather than displace, those of fossil fuels.

Economic Costs of Biofuel Production
Biofuel feedstocks include many crops that would otherwise be used for human consumption directly, or indirectly as animal feed. Diverting these crops to biofuels may lead to more land area devoted to agriculture, increased use of polluting inputs, and higher food prices. Cellulosic feedstocks can also compete for resources (land, water, fertilizer, etc.) that could otherwise be devoted to food production. As a result, biofuel production may give rise to several undesirable developments:
1. Land use patterns may change, resulting in GHG emissions. Biofuel feedstocks grown on land cleared from tropical forests, such as soybeans in the Amazon and oil palm in Southeast Asia, generate particularly high GHG emissions.
2. Even when feedstocks are not directly grown on forests or native ecosystems, higher crop prices can encourage the expansion of agriculture into undeveloped land, leading to GHG emissions and biodiversity losses
3. Biofuel production and processing practices can release GHGs. Fertilizer application releases nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas. Most biorefineries operate using fossil fuels. The magnitude of the total GHG emissions resulting from biofuel production and use, including those from indirect land use change, might even exceed those generated by fossil fuels in some circumstances.
4. The quantity of food brought to market might decrease, resulting in higher food prices and possibly more malnutrition.
5. Water quality could suffer as rising prices for agricultural commodities induce more intensive agricultural practices (e.g., greater use of inputs such as fertilizer). Increases in irrigation could unsustainable deplete aquifers.
6. Air quality could also suffer if the total impact of biofuels on tailpipe emissions plus the additional emissions generated at biorefineries increases net conventional air pollution."

And that's just what the ever-trustworthy EPA has to say.  Here's a small sampling of additional analyses to consider:

1. "As large-scale biofuels subsidies and mandates are enacted in the future, more and more forests, grasslands, etc., will be cleared, either directly or indirectly, releasing their tremendous stores of carbon (soils and plant biomass contain almost three times as much carbon as the atmosphere). When properly accounting for these land-use changes, Searchinger et al. (2) estimated that rather than reducing GHG, corn-based ethanol doubles emissions for over thirty years and results in increased emissions for 167 years. Switchgrass-based biofuels, even if grown on U.S. corn fields, would still increase GHG emissions by 50% over thirty years. "

2. Lose-Lose on Biofuels? The EPA’s analysis suggests that the switch toward renewables will significantly increase various emissions. 

3. Palm oil biodiesel can increase greenhouse emissions by 2,000%

4. New study claims ethanol and biodiesel may actually boost GHG emissions 
case study for the state of Vermont, if every single ounce of waste grease from the 812,623 restaurants in the USA was somehow recycled in a 1:1 ratio to biodiesel, the maximum yield of biodiesel would be 940 million gallons, just slightly above the EPA requirement for next year. This doesn't take into account the massive amounts of fossil fuel and non-existent infrastructure requirements required to gather, transport, and convert the waste grease. 

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