First-Gen Fuels under Siege, Hit Back with Hard Data
by Jim Lane (Biofuels Digest) Ethanol supporters in the US and Australia and first-gen fuels advocates of conventional ethanol and biodiesel in the EU are striking out against what they see as misguided reports that have appeared across three continents this week — all aimed ultimately at derailing mandates that support market access for biofuels.
In the US: looking at ethanol plant impact on crop acreage
In the US, Renewable Fuels Association senior vice-president Geoff Cooper is hitting out hard against anew study funded in part by the National Wildlife Federation, that “argues that many corn ethanol plants were built in the middle of the native grassland prairie of the Great Plains, away from the cropland that grows the corn needed to make ethanol.”
“If you were going to build a timber mill, would you put it in the middle of a desert, far away from the trees? Cooper asked. “ If you were going into the orange juice business, would you build your processing plant in Maine, thousands of miles from the citrus groves of the Gulf Coast? Of course not. So, why on earth would you build a grain ethanol plant where there isn’t any grain? You wouldn’t.”
To test the NWF study’s theory regarding “pockets of conversion” around ethanol plants, RFA examined USDA county-level cropland data for the 180 counties where 199 grain ethanol plants were located in 2016. RFA relied on data that is mandatorily reported every five years by farmers and ranchers.
The USDA data reveal that consistent with the national trend, the overwhelming majority of counties with ethanol plants witnessed reductions—not expansions—in cropland between 1997 and 2012. Specifically, RFA found:
• Cropland in the counties with ethanol plants fell by 2.02 million acres, or 3.5 percent, between 1997 and 2012.
• Between 2007 and 2012 specifically (i.e., encompassing the period examined by the NWF study), total cropland in counties with ethanol plants fell by 454,000 acres, or 0.8 percent.
In the EU, FEDIOL (representing the European Vegetable Oil and Proteinmeal industry) questions the EU Commission’s proposal for a Renewable Energy Directive post-2020 and the main objectives it was initially conceived to achieve. The Directive, as proposed, would fail to reduce GHG emissions, would increase the EU’s dependency on fossil fuels and would eliminate an important market outlet to the agricultural sector.
Further difficulties in the development and availability of advanced feedstocks, linked with a lack of confidence by investors in view of the uncertain policy context, make the target set for advanced biofuels overly ambitious and highly unlikely to be achieved. For these reasons, FEDIOL calls on the European Parliament and Council to maintain the 7% cap for conventional biofuels and further invest in advanced low-carbon technologies alongside conventional biofuels, so as to meet an overall minimum 15% renewables’ target in transport.
To support the statement in its position paper and analyse the implications of a potential phase out of conventional biofuels, indeed, FEDIOL produced a detailed Impact Assessment entitled “Implementing the Commission’s proposal on conventional biofuels: the consequences for agriculture and industry”.
The study quantifies the huge financial losses that a slowdown or halt in rapeseed production would trigger throughout the production chain: cutting a total of 16 million tons of rapeseed crush as well as 2.7 million tons of soybean crush out of production would cause the closure of almost half of the EU crushing plants, representing around 10,000 direct jobs. This would result in the loss of more than 9.6 million tons of rapeseed meal and 2.1 million tons of soybean meal.
Finally, a factsheet called “An EU without first generation biofuels? Impact on the oilseed and agricultural markets” provides a graphic adaptation of the Impact Assessment, describes the benefits of biofuel production and addresses some misperceptions linked to it.
In Australia, a recent Regulation of Australian Agriculture, Productivity Commission Inquiry Report made the assertion that biofuel mandates impose an unnecessary cost on farmers and consumers, for ‘negligible environmental benefit’.
The Managing Director of Queensland Renewable Fuels Association, Larissa Rose, said QRFA contests as these comments made by the Productivity Commission do not represent facts.
“In making these claims the Productivity Commission has drawn flawed conclusions from poor evidence. Suggesting that agribusiness will suffer from biofuel mandates when it is a key diversification market for agriculture, is completely inaccurate,” Ms Rose said. “With Australia already importing more than 90 per cent of our petroleum crude and finished products, supporting measures that will further increase our dependence on foreign oil is irresponsible as are suggestions of importing biofuels from countries like Brazil as mentioned in the Inquiry Report.”
By the Productivity Commission’s own figures, farming businesses use 86 per cent diesel, a fuel completely unaffected by ethanol mandates. “In fact the opposite is true – it is the very products these (agricultural) businesses produce that are the feedstock for biofuels – creating sales, supporting business and boosting jobs,” Ms Rose said.
“This is exactly what Australian’s biofuel refineries do – support our nation’s regional economy and provide us with low carbon fuel.
Now motorists are beginning to understand that you can get a higher octane fuel more cost-effectively with E10,” said Ms Rose.