Skip to Content

U.S. Will Be Hard-Pressed to Meet Its Biofuel Mandates

The corn ethanol industry is booming, but cellulosic biofuel production is far behind schedule.

Under the 2007 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stipulates that gasoline and diesel refiners must blend a certain amount of “renewable fuel” into their products or face penalties.

The vast majority of the biofuel being produced now is corn-derived ethanol, on which the RFS places a cap of 15 billion gallons by 2015. So to satisfy the federal mandate that 36 billion gallons of biofuel be blended into the overall supply by 2022, the U.S. biofuels industry will have to produce a substantial amount of other types of biofuels—especially cellulosic ethanol, which can be made from wood chips and grasses. 

But in 2007, Congress vastly overestimated the government’s ability to create a market for cellulosic biofuels, which remain much more expensive to produce than corn ethanol. There was no commercial production of cellulosic fuel in 2010 or 2011—even though the 2007 law originally called for 100 million and 250 million gallons, respectively, for those years (the requirements were subsequently scaled back to around 6.5 million gallons for each year). The chart above shows the actual biofuel production, so far, compared to future mandates.

In 2012, the EPA posits—based on its analysis of the six facilities scheduled to come online this year—that the fledgling industry will have the capacity to produce nearly 10.5 million gallons, compared to the original goal of 500 million. The chart above shows a breakdown, by company and facility, of the EPA’s projections for 2012 cellulosic biofuel production.

Several more facilities should begin commercial production in 2013, but it’s hard to believe that the industry will come even close to producing a billion gallons—the goal for that year, set by Congress in 2007. And the 2022 mandate of 36 billion total gallons of biofuel—16 of that cellulosic—is looking more unrealistic every year.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

Rendering of Waterfront Toronto project
Rendering of Waterfront Toronto project

Toronto wants to kill the smart city forever

The city wants to get right what Sidewalk Labs got so wrong.

windows desktop with anime image from Wallpaper Engine
windows desktop with anime image from Wallpaper Engine

Chinese gamers are using a Steam wallpaper app to get porn past the censors

Wallpaper Engine has become a haven for ingenious Chinese users who use it to smuggle adult content as desktop wallpaper. But how long can it last?

Yann LeCun
Yann LeCun

Yann LeCun has a bold new vision for the future of AI

One of the godfathers of deep learning pulls together old ideas to sketch out a fresh path for AI, but raises as many questions as he answers.

Linux hack concept
Linux hack concept

The US military wants to understand the most important software on Earth

Open-source code runs on every computer on the planet—and keeps America’s critical infrastructure going. DARPA is worried about how well it can be trusted

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.