When Congress established the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) through the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act, one of the primary goals was to grow the fledgling cellulosic ethanol sector from laboratory scale up to an industry surpassing corn ethanol, via an exponentially-increasing national mandate. But today, the fate of that policy hangs in the balance. The RFS has been repeatedly challenged by competing industries and laissez-faire policymakers, challenges that are finally starting to make progress. But even more fundamentally, the cellulosic standard has failed in stimulating any significant production of fuel to date. While the program originally called for 85,000,000 gallons of cellulose-derived fuels to be produced through the end of 2012 (a highly optimistic target), Paul recently pointed out that actual RIN registration over that period indicates only 20,070 gallons of production.
Even though actual production has disappointed, the amount of capacity that is currently under construction or recently completed is cause for optimism, however. I’m aware of five cellulosic biorefineries in the US that fit that category- steel in the ground, scheduled to come online within the next year or two (two are already complete and starting to produce fuels):
|Company, Location||Nominal capacity (Mgal/year)
||Construction start||Projected completion||Source|
|KiOR, Columbus, MS||9.6||–||2012||http://www.workingforest.com/cellulosic-biofuel-surge-2013/|
|Ineos, Vero Beach, FL||8||–||2012||http://www.ineosbio.com/76-Press_releases-44.htm|
|Abengoa, Hugoton, KS||23||2011||2013||http://www.chemicals-technology.com/projects/abengoa-cellulosic-ethanol-biorefinery/|
|Poet, Emmetsburg, IA||20||2012||2013||http://www.tristateneighbor.com/news/regional/article_7fd043d2-7465-11e1-8e8f-0019bb2963f4.html|
|Dupont, Nevada, IA||30||2012||2014||http://ens-newswire.com/2012/12/12/dupont-builds-giant-cellulosic-ethanol-biorefinery-in-iowa/|
The production capacities scheduled to be available for 2013, 2014, and 2015 are added up and plotted along with the original and revised RFS targets below (note that it’s plotted on a log scale, so a straight line indicates exponential growth). As you can see, the nominal cellulosic ethanol production capacity that is scheduled to be available in 2013 is right in line with the revised 2013 RFS target (I realize that at least one of the facilities above will be producing drop-in fuels rather than ethanol; I’m playing a bit fast and loose with the raw volumes rather than doing a more precise conversion to ethanol equivalents, but I think the resulting will be reasonaby small). Even more interestingly, the planned 2015 capacity is very comparable to the original 2010 target. So, we appear to be seeing an exponential ramp-up in cellulosic production capacity, consistent with the revised RFS and roughly 5 years out of phase with the original RFS targets. Now, there’s no guarantee that these facilities are going to come online and produce exactly as currently advertised; even if successful they are likely to run at only partial capacity initially. But, to the extent that the RFS was intended to inspire confidence in the industry to take risks and aggressively add production capacity, it appears to be succeeding, just a few years later than originally envisioned.