Speaking with One Voice: RFA chief calls for biofuels unity

February 21, 2011 |

The ethanol industry gathers in Phoenix this week for the National Ethanol Conference, which kicks off officially this morning with a welcome from RFA chairman Chuck Woodside of KAAPA Ethanol, and a state of the industry address from CEO Bob Dinneen.

It does so against the backdrop of dark clouds gathering once more in Washington, as budget-cutting activist members of Congress, including a large freshman class, passed two amendments to the US House budget resolution, which block the U.S. EPA from implementing its approved waiver for E15 ethanol blends in America’s fuel supply and  prohibiting construction of blender pumps and ethanol storage facilities.

We have reaction from Growth Energy and the NPRA this morning, elsewhere in our Digest report.

In our Advanced Biofuels Leadership Conference, we chose as our theme, “The Year of Decisions” and we cannot emphasize enough how much we believe that 2011 will be the year in which critical decisions are made in the structuring of finance and policy that surrounds the emerging global biofuels industry, as well as a year in which key technologies are advanced by their investors towards commercialization, or laid aside, or consolidated.

Today’s lead report comes from Digest columnist and RFA CEO Bob Dinneen, who in addition to giving the opening address at the National Ethanol Conference, has penned an eloquent call for unification across the biofuels spectrum, in his column for this month, “Speaking with One Voice”.

Speaking with One Voice

by Bob Dinneen, CEO, Renewable Fuels Association

Towards the end of 2010, Congress approved a one-year extension of the incentives for producing and using ethanol.
With this wise decision, the stage was set for a wide-ranging debate about how to encourage American biofuels including ethanol – the only immediate alternative to imported oil in our cars, trucks and other motor vehicles.

Now, with the turmoil in the Middle East, there is new urgency to finding new ways to replace oil from the Persian Gulf. When the cry for freedom in Cairo sends oil prices skyrocketing because 2 million barrels a day flow through the Suez Canal, we’re reminded that we have a real problem. The mere possibility of an oil supply disruption in the Middle East costs U.S. consumers billions because we have nowhere else to turn to fuel our cars and trucks. What if the million barrels a day that flow through the Strait of Hormuz were threatened? Especially with the economy in crisis, the nation cannot afford to go back to the days of long gas lines and gas prices exceeding $5 per gallon.

It is critically important that, as Congress and the country debate and decide energy policy, the ethanol industry will be speaking with one voice. That’s why the recent announcement that companies developing the next generation of advanced ethanol technologies are working together with the ethanol industry’s trade organization, the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), through the formation of the Advanced Ethanol Council (AEC) is so significant.

The Advanced Ethanol Council

On the industry’s cutting edge, the Advanced Ethanol Council represents pioneering producers of clean and renewable ethanol from feedstocks ranging from grasses and corn stalks to wood waste, municipal solid waste, and algae. Among the industry pacesetters founding the AEC are Abengoa Bioenergy, BlueFire Renewables, Coskata, Enerkem, Fulcrum BioEnergy, Inbicon, Iogen, Mascoma, Osage Bio Energy and Qteros.

The AEC will be singularly focused on accelerating the commercialization of advanced ethanol through visionary public policies that unleash the full potential of these advanced technologies and launch new market opportunities for ethanol.

These efforts will continue the progress that was made in 2010 towards the commercialization of cellulosic (non-grain) and advanced ethanol. Last year, for the first time, the US Department of Energy awarded a loan guarantee to a cellulosic ethanol project that will use municipal solid waste – or, to put it plainly, garbage – to produce ethanol at a facility in Nevada.

Meanwhile, the US Department of Agriculture awarded three more loan guarantees to cellulosic ethanol plants in Alabama, Florida and Mississippi. Together, these projects will produce more than 83 million gallons of cellulosic energy in the very near future.

Public investment in Big Oil vs ethanol

While paling in comparison to the estimated $280 billion-a-year in federal subsidies for Big Oil, public investments in biofuels are reaping returns: 13 billion gallons of ethanol produced in 2010; a 30 to 50 percent reduction greenhouse gas emissions, compared to gasoline with current ethanol technologies and the replacement of more than 445 million barrels of imported oil, much of it from nations headed by hostile dictators like Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

By contrast, in this country last year, the 204 biorefineries in 29 states supported more than 400,000 non-exportable, high-paying green jobs, contributed $53.6 billion added to the Gross Domestic Product, added $36 billion to household income and paid $11 billion in federal, state and local tax revenues.

Public policymakers – and every concerned American — should be discussing how to build on these successes. We need to consider how we can finally and assuredly commercialize new technologies using new feedstocks. We need to decide how best to further insulate gasoline marketers blending ethanol today from the wild gyrations of the world oil market.

The next generation is emerging

For many years, the debate has focused on the first generation of ethanol producers whose success and survival is essential for maintaining the markets, the infrastructure and the skilled workforce that are giving rise to the next generation of biofuels.

Now that next generation is emerging, and the entire industry is speaking with one voice, it is time to start looking forward. Together, we’re participating in the debate about how to encourage the development, production and use of clean-burning, job-generating, American-made biofuels.

Let the conversation continue.

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