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Guest Editorial: Advancing Advanced Biofuels
by Jim Imbler, President & CEO of ZeaChem, Inc.

“Advanced renewable transportation fuels will be one of the nation’s most important industries in the 21st century.” These words come from no less a visionary than President Barack Obama.

The claim is substantiated by proof that advanced biofuels can offer a low-carbon, high-yield energy source that will reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil. So why is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) throttling this promising technology with a 10 percent blend, just when commercial viability is within reach?

Actualizing the benefits of ethanol requires government assurance of a continued and growing market. Companies on the verge of commercializing advanced cellulosic biofuels, like ZeaChem Inc., support increasing the ethanol blend in U.S. gasoline supplies from 10 to 15 percent. Raising the blend will guarantee a market for next-generation ethanol producers, feedstock partners, fuel sellers, green job communities, and fuel customers. In turn, this market will stimulate investment and speed deployment of ethanol technologies.

Business thrives on stability. Lawmakers laying the foundation for the new energy economy must create consistent, long-term policies to secure a business environment that drives innovation. Such a long-term commitment will encourage investment, industry partnerships, and development funding – all critical to the commercialization of advanced biofuels.

The federal government should finish the regulation framework it has outlined. First-generation corn ethanol producers are on the verge of surpassing the regulatory cap of 10 percent ethanol blending. When regulators enforce the 10 percent ethanol cap, suppliers will respond by reducing production, which is a step back for the entire industry. This cap is at odds with national policy through the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS), which calls for 21 billion gallons of advanced biofuels by 2022. By increasing the regulatory cap from the outdated E10 limit to an E15 blend, the requirements would comply with the more current RFS and thereby establish inroads to compete with foreign oil at the pump.

The numbers prove that higher ethanol blends and commercialization of advanced biofuels will create green jobs, increase energy independence, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions immediately with increasing benefits well into the future. North Dakota University researchers found that advancing to E15 will create more than 136,000 green-collar jobs. Jumping to E15 would also generate .4 billion for the U.S. economy and displace seven billion gallons of imported gasoline each year – removing 20 million tons of greenhouse gases per year from the atmosphere.

While ethanol production is mostly based in the Midwest, advanced biofuel technology can use poplars, miscanthus, switch grass and more – bringing agribusiness and green jobs to regions previously thought unsuitable for crops. A portfolio of feedstock options ensures that advanced biofuels are not reliant upon only one resource, thereby reducing risk.

It is imperative to all biofuels stakeholders, from the oil refiner to the citizen at the pump, that the U.S. demonstrates a long-term approach to support alternative fuels. ZeaChem and others in the advanced biofuels industry are now in a critical phase of deploying next generation technologies. This new and growing industry needs a hand up, not a hand out. The government can unlock the immediate, proven, and practical benefits from advanced biofuels, but it will require the EPA to unequivocally support the deployment of advanced biofuels by approving higher ethanol blends.

About the Author:  Jim Imbler is President & CEO of ZeaChem, Inc., a company developing a cellulose-based biorefinery platform capable of producing third-generation ethanol fuel and intermediate chemicals. 

© American Coalition for Ethanol, all rights reserved.
The American Coalition for Ethanol publishes Ethanol Today magazine each month to cover the biofuels industryís hot topics, including cellulosic ethanol, E85, corn ethanol, food versus fuel, ethanolís carbon footprint, E10, E15, and mid-range ethanol blends.
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