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EPA green lights camelina, energy cane but keeps the lid on arundo

| February 26, 2013

energy-caneNew renewable feedstock OKs. Good news, bad, neutral?

The Digest looks in depth at the latest from EPA.

In Washington, the US Environmental Protection Agency issued a final rule qualifying biofuels produced from camelina oil as biomass-based diesel or advanced biofuel, as well as biofuels from energy cane which qualify as cellulosic biofuel.

This final rule also qualifies renewable gasoline and renewable gasoline blendstock made from certain qualifying feedstocks as cellulosic biofuel.

“This decision adds to the growing list of biodiesel feedstocks that meet the EPA’s standards for Advanced Biofuel and gives us yet another option for producing sustainable, domestic biodiesel that displaces imported oil,” said Anne Steckel, NBB’s vice president of federal affairs. “This is important for our energy security, for our economy and for addressing climate change, and we thank the EPA for conducting a thorough and fair review.”

By qualifying these new fuel pathways, this rule provides opportunities to increase the volume of advanced, low-GHG renewable fuels— such as cellulosic biofuels— under the RFS program. EPA’s comprehensive analyses show significant lifecycle GHG emission reductions from these fuel types, as compared to the baseline gasoline or diesel fuel that they replace.

Lastly, the rule clarifies the definition of renewable diesel to explicitly include jet fuel. This clarification offers additional market certainty and opportunity for renewable diesel producers.

Rulemaking Process

EPA published a direct final rule and a parallel proposed rule in January 2012 to amend the RFS regulations, but subsequently received adverse comment on certain aspects of the direct final rule and in March 2012, EPA withdrew the direct final rule.

EPA commented: “The adverse comments we received centered on a few narrow aspects of the assumptions underlying the greenhouse gas (GHG) estimates of producing biofuel feedstocks, including camelina, energy cane, napier grass, giant reed and corn stover. These comments were based on a misinterpretation of our analysis.

“In this final rule, we provide additional clarification regarding our assumptions, and the underlying analysis remains unchanged from the proposed rule.

“Commenters also stated the direct final rule did not properly address issues related to control of invasive species. The information provid donaxed did not raise significant concerns about the threat of invasiveness and related GHG emissions for camelina and energy cane. Therefore, we are finalizing the camelina and energy cane pathways in this rule based on our lifecycle analysis.”

No joy for elephant grass and arundo

EPA commented: “We are not finalizing at this time determinations on biofuels produced from giant reed (Arundo donax) or napier grass (Pennisetum purpureum), or biodiesel produced from esterification. We continue to consider the issues concerning these proposals, and will make a final decision on them at a later time.”

Pathway Determinations

The final rule describes EPA’s analysis and determinations for the following new fuel pathways:

Camelina oil

• Biodiesel and renewable diesel (including jet fuel and heating oil)— qualifying as biomass-based diesel and advanced biofuel
• Naphtha and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG)— qualifying as advanced biofuel

Energy cane cellulosic biomass

• Ethanol, renewable diesel (including renewable jet fuel and heating oil), and naphtha— qualifying as cellulosic biofuel

Renewable gasoline and renewable gasoline blendstock

• Produced from crop residue, slash, pre-commercial thinnings, tree residue, annual cover crops, and cellulosic components of separated yard waste, separated food waste, and separated municipal solid waste (MSW)

• Using the following processes— all utilizing natural gas, biogas, and/or biomass as the only process energy sources— qualifying as cellulosic biofuel:

o Thermochemical pyrolysis
o Thermochemical gasification
o Biochemical direct fermentation
o Biochemical fermentation with catalytic upgrading
o Any other process that uses biogas and/or biomass as the only process energy sources

Winners and losers

Well, clearly any venture woking with camelina or energy cane. But there’s some love in there for jet fuel, pyrolysis and a host of other processing technologies that had aimed at cellulosic biofuels.

It’s good news for KiOR and Dynamic Fuels, too.

Losers? For the time being, it puts a kibosh on some of the plans at Beta Renewables to employ arundo donax as a feedstock for cellulosic biofuels.

The bottom line

It’s an incredible leap forward in terms of broadening opportunities to meet RFS targets with a broader range of feedstocks, conversion technologies and downstream products and by-products.

There are ever more way to earn RINs — although, suffice to say, it would have been more exciting if there had been go-to major projects that were immediate beneficiaries.

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