Building a Bioethanol Coalition in the Fight Against Climate Change

March 14, 2016 |

JanKoninckx04By Jan Koninckx, Global business director for advanced biofuels, DuPont. Special to The Digest

February 2016 was the warmest February on record—perhaps of all time. Not by tenths of degrees, as records are often broken by, but by a staggering 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit higher than average. The body of evidence for global warming continues to grow. Illustrated by the strong global consensus reached in Paris, our call is clear: we must act with the utmost urgency as we work toward solutions to help slow man-made climate change. Transportation contributes a quarter of all man-made CO2 emissions, and it needs to be decarbonized.

Bioethanol, here today and part of the solution

A critical component of our progress is something the commuting public uses every time they fuel up their vehicles—bioethanol. It’s here today and a key part of the solution.

Together, grain and cellulose-based bioethanol are actively de-carbonizing the transportation sector. Bioethanol offers a solution that is already integrated into the existing transportation infrastructure today, and is easily adoptable tomorrow no matter the geography.

Ethanol’s carbon footprint shrinks, while that of fossil fuel grows. Currently cellulose-based bioethanol is commercializing with the startup of facilities like DuPont’s Iowa cellulosic production plant. At the same time, grain ethanol becomes increasingly efficient in its production methods, year after year. As a consequence, both technologies offer significant reductions in carbon emissions in transportation fuels.

Here is an American example: In 2009, California assessed that corn ethanol’s carbon footprint equaled that of gasoline, including the impact of Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC). In 2015—just six years later—gasoline’s Carbon Intensity (CI) had gotten worse by about 2 percent, while grain ethanol’s CI improved nearly 20 percent since 2009 as estimated by the Renewable Fuels Association. And in Europe, grain ethanol producers are driven to better energy efficiency by higher energy prices, and the impact shows: European grain ethanol producers average about 60 percent GHG reductions versus fossil gasoline, some even more than 70 percent. And in a next step, DuPont’s cellulosic ethanol plant will produce ethanol with 90 percent lower carbon emissions. These are huge leaps forward.

To slow the impact of global warming and decarbonize transportation, we need to use every tool at our disposal. Electric cars, for instance, need to be deployed. This comes with some obvious limitations, including car inventory penetration and the requirement for a large charging infrastructure. Biofuels go to work immediately in existing gas tanks using existing infrastructure and cars. Therefore, renewable fuels can make a much larger impact in the nearer-term future.

Increasing the use of fuel ethanol, both grain- and biomass-based, is key to decarbonizing the transport sector quickly and contributing to the ambitions laid out during the COP21 summit in Paris. With United States blends of 10 percent ethanol, Americans will avoid over 40 million tons of CO2 emissions. European drivers will avoid over 5 million tons of CO2 emissions in 2016. A few European countries already have E10 supply at their gas stations and others should follow. With higher blends, we can multiply this positive effect. Simply by filling up their tanks today, drivers around the world can achieve significant GHG savings through existing grain-based biofuels using existing infrastructure.

The obvious multiplier

Another obvious multiplier is expanded investment and adoption of biomass-based ethanol. DuPont’s plant in Iowa is in commissioning and we expect others will follow suit. De-carbonization policies which are specific (clear targets) and uniform (federal or regional states in the U.S. or European Union level in Europe) will foster further investment, enabling innovators to re-deploy these advanced technologies and capture environmental, economic and energy security benefits the world over.

Every solution that provides long-term GHG emission savings over fossil fuels – particularly one that seamlessly fits into existing modes of transportation – is a major step forward in the climate fight. Anything less is a win for the status quo. Using oil as a single source for transportation fuels is an outdated mindset. But we cannot count on the entrenched interests to make this switch and open markets to innovation and alternatives. Therefore, it is time to push for joint action by all industries that bring carbon emissions reductions so that we drive together for continued investment and improvement in all forms of low carbon transportation. Our challenge is not amongst those that reduce carbon emissions—it is against the forces that maintain the status quo and divert us all from taking action in the face of the greatest threat our planet has ever faced.

People’s need for mobility will not change. What must change however is how we fuel that need. DuPont believes science holds the answer, yet the solution requires more than scientific innovation alone. To answer the urgent call for climate solutions, we need to acknowledge that all viable options that reduce harmful GHG emissions must be allowed access to the market. Just as harmful GHGs spoil our environment; infighting and political gridlock spoil our chances to make real and substantive advances in the climate fight now. But this fight is winnable. The innovation is here today. Let us work together to answer the call for 21st century renewable energy solutions.

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Category: Thought Leadership

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