Update on cellulosic biofuel production and the RFS

Here’s a quick roundup of recent news relating to the cellulosic biofuel mandate in the Renewable Fuel Standard:

  • The EPA has revised the 2013 cellulosic biofuel requirement down sharply, from 14 million gallons per year of ethanol equivalent down to 6 Mgy
  • They are also reporting production of 130,000 gallons of ethanol-equivalent cellulosic biofuels in 2013 to date
  • NRDC affiliate Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) released a new report noting that production capacity of ‘advanced’ biofuels is exploding, with installed cellulosic biofuel generation capacity on track to increase by an order of magnitude over the next three years

Given all these recent developments, now is a good time to update the ol’ log-scale-cellulosic -biofuel-capacity plot.  In addition to my own previous informal estimate of trends in cellulosic biofuel production capacity installation, I’ve added in the E2 projections mentioned above, and a third estimate derived from the Biomass Digest (BD) Advanced Biofuels & Chemicals Project Database.  Also included are the original and revised RFS requirements, and actual RIN generation reported by the EPA.  Note that this is plotted on a log scale, so a straight line indicates a constant exponential growth rate:

RFS projections

A couple of observations on these data:

  • The three capacity projections all suggest that cellulosic ethanol production capacity is increasing at an exponential growth rate similar to or exceeding the rate originally assumed in the EISA legislation,  though lagging 4-5 years behind.  Note that these projections assume that facilities currently in construction won’t be cancelled, and that past projections from BD were overly-optimistic- at one time they were projecting 6 Mgy capacity available by 2010, a level that wasn’t actually achieved until ~2 1/2 years later…
  • Actual fuel production trails installed capacity significantly (currently about 2 orders of magnitude lower!!), probably partially reflecting the time it takes to fully ramp up production at a newly-constructed facility.  Thus, an additional 2-3 year lag is introduced.

It will be very interesting to see what these curves look like in a couple of years.  One thing is certain though:   aggressive federal support has pushed an industry that was perpetually 5 years away from viability to starting putting large amounts of steel in the ground!

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5 Responses to Update on cellulosic biofuel production and the RFS

  1. John says:

    Interesting. Sounds like there will be north of 500,000 ethanol-equivalent gallons of cellulosic-derived fuel produced by the end of the year, even if they continue to operate at only ~10% of capacity. That’s not going to meet the 2013 RFS targets, but it’s a HUGE step in the right direction….

  2. John says:

    Also, here’s Ethanol Producer Magazine on the slow, difficult process of commissioning this first round of very unique and innovative cellulosic facilities:
    http://www.ethanolproducer.com/articles/10363/commissioning-a-first-of-a-kind-plant-takes-time

  3. John says:

    Related, a 5-ish MGY cellulosic ethanol facility just opened up in Northern Italy to convert rice straw, wheat straw, and Arundo Donax biomass to fuel:
    http://www.betarenewables.com/crescentino/green-revolution

  4. Pingback: Tracking cellulosic bioenergy targets, production, and capacity | Energy and the Future

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