Study: RFS2 GHG Emission Reductions
Far Exceed EPA Expectations
A study released last month finds that the expanded Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2) has been a major success in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, with nearly 600 million metric tons of GHG reduction since the standard was reauthorized in 2007.
Actual GHG reductions under the RFS2 have far surpassed the EPA’s original expectations of 422 million metric tons, according to the study.
The analysis was conducted by Life Cycle Associates, a California-based scientific consulting firm, and commissioned by the Renewable Fuels Foundation (RFF).
The findings, which came as two House committees held climate change hearings, highlight the important role that ethanol and other biofuels can play in efforts to fight climate change and reduce GHG emissions, the Renewable Fuel Association says.
“The RFS2 has resulted in significant GHG reductions, with cumulative CO2 savings of 600 million metric tonnes over the period of implementation,” according to the study. “The GHG reductions are due to the greater than expected savings from ethanol and other biofuels. These emissions savings occur even though cellulosic biofuels have not met the RFS2 production targets. Biofuels have achieved and exceeded the GHG reductions estimated by EPA.”
As outlined in the report, the larger-than-expected GHG reductions are due to:
- The adoption of technology improvements in the production of corn-based ethanol, resulting in far greater GHG reductions than originally estimated by the EPA;
- The GHG emissions of petroleum are higher than the baseline estimates originally projected by the EPA; and
- Advanced biofuels like biodiesel, renewable diesel, and renewable natural gas have contributed additional GHG reductions, even though actual cellulosic biofuel production has been lower than initially projected.
Using the latest available data and modeling tools, the study found that the conventional ethanol consumed in 2018 reduced GHG emissions by 43 percent compared to petroleum, even when hypothetical “land use change” factors are included. That compares to EPA’s initial projections that conventional ethanol would achieve only a 20 percent GHG reduction versus petroleum.
“As this study demonstrates, renewable fuels like ethanol are an incredibly effective tool for reducing GHG emissions,” said Geoff Cooper, President and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA). “And with renewable fuels, we don’t need to cross our fingers and wait for the development and commercialization of a new technology. Ethanol is available here and now to help our nation decarbonize our transportation fuels in a cost-effective manner.
“As the new Congress turns its focus to climate change and efforts to reduce GHG emissions, we encourage lawmakers to recognize and build upon the incredible success of the RFS.” Cooper said.
The 600 million metric tons of GHG reduction achieved under the RFS is equivalent to the GHG savings that would result from removing roughly half of the nation’s automobiles from the road for a full year, or shutting down 154 coal-fired power plants for a year, according to EPA.
A copy of the report is here.
Bipartisan Legislation Aims to Boost
Ethanol Production, Capture Carbon
Bipartisan legislation that would implement strategies that help ethanol producers develop carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies has been introduced in Congress.
Specifically, the Utilizing Significant Emissions with Innovative Technologies (USE IT) Act simplifies the permitting process for the construction of carbon dioxide pipelines which are needed to transport carbon dioxide captured in the ethanol refining process to locations where it can either be buried 7,000 feet underground or turned into valuable products such as plastics, chemicals, cement and jet fuel.
CCS technologies that reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere are key tools in the fight against climate change, the bill’s sponsors say, adding that they believe it to be an important first step to enable ethanol producers to capitalize on the 45Q tax credits, which incentivize the deployment of CCS technologies.
“With a struggling farm economy and changing weather patterns, we need to do everything we can to help our agricultural producers succeed and aggressively tackle this climate crisis,” said Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL), a member of the House Agriculture Committee and a co-sponsor of the bill. “Carbon capture, storage and utilization [represent] a largely untapped financial opportunity for our Illinois ethanol producers, and this common-sense, bipartisan bill is an important first step to help them remain successful and make our all-American, homegrown energy cleaner.”
“Some in the ethanol industry, including our company, are investigating ways to capitalize on new carbon capture and sequestration technologies and we see great potential synergies between ethanol and CCS,” said Neil Koehler, CEO of Pacific Ethanol in Pekin, IL. “We appreciate the leadership of Congresswoman Bustos on this issue and many others and look forward to working with her.”
The measure was first introduced last year by Bustos and Reps. Scott Peters (D-CA), David McKinley (R-WV) and Marc Veasey (D-TX). This year, Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ) joins as a co-lead. Sens. John Barrasso (R-WY) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced an identical bill in the Senate.
The bill is supported by the Carbon Capture Coalition, Bipartisan Policy Center Action, Carbon180, Carbon Wrangler, Clean Air Task Force, ClearPath Action, the Nature Conservancy, Third Way, the Utility Workers Union of America, and others.
CAST Paper Explores Long-Term Impacts
of Aquifer Depletion on U.S. Agriculture
The increased competition for the use of water from aquifers may negatively affect future agricultural practices in drier regions of the United States, suggests the latest paper released by the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology.
The paper, Aquifer Depletion and Potential Impacts on Long-term Irrigated Agricultural Productivity, reviews the causes and consequences of groundwater depletion – Earth’s most extracted raw material – with a focus on impacts to agriculture as the largest sector of groundwater use.
Agriculture’s large-scale depletion of groundwater began in the 1950s and tripled by the 1990s with approximately 71 percent directed toward irrigating crops, researchers say. As the U.S. population increases, demands for more food production and water supplies will stress valuable water resources, especially in locations sensitive to droughts.
The paper identifies the U.S. aquifer system with the greatest long-term groundwater storage depletion to be the Ogallala aquifer in the Great Plains region of the United States.
Meanwhile, two large aquifer systems in the Pacific Northwest, the Columbia Plateau aquifer and the Snake River Plain aquifer, have had a net accretion of groundwater levels as compared to predevelopment conditions.
John Tracy, director of the Texas Water Resource Institute and task force chair for the CAST paper, stressed the long-term consequences are apparent and must be addressed carefully in order to avoid abusing this type of water resource.
“There is no silver bullet to address groundwater depletion and its consequences,” he said. “It requires a unique approach to be developed for each situation. We must be prepared to address this problem over the long haul and avoid promoting policies that focus on quick fixes that will ultimately fail.”
The CAST publication provides both an outline of current federal and state policies targeting groundwater depletion and suggestions for future mitigation.
Executive Vice President of CAST Kent Schescke said the purpose of the publication is to provide accurate, science-based information in order to build effective policies in the agriculture industry.
“Enabling policies that protect and manage our water resources using sound science and engineering is another way we continue to help secure a safe, abundant, and affordable food supply,” Schescke said.
Highlights from the paper include:
- An overview of groundwater and its use in the United States
- An outline of geographical areas impacted by groundwater use
- Consequences from depleting aquifers
- Mitigation efforts to reverse groundwater depletion
- A case study on the causes, consequences, and mitigation of groundwater depletion
To download a summary of the paper, click HERE.