Enough “cellulosic” ethanol to meet federal targets is nowhere in sight, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acknowledged again this week in proposing quotas for biofuels usage in 2012. The quota for corn-based ethanol, on the other hand, will bump up as scheduled to 13.2 billion gallons.

EPA slashed the proposed quota for cellulosic biofuel from the 500 million gallons specified in federal law to a number somewhere in the range of 3.45 million to 12.9 million gallons. The specific number will be announced no later than November. The quota for 2011 was similarly set far below the target set by Congress. The federal law setting the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) allows the agency to adjust some targets based on availability of the fuel.

The quota for corn-based ethanol is fixed in the law at 13.2 billion gallons, an increase of 600 million gallons in 2011. At a rate of 2.8 gallons of ethanol from a bushel of corn, according to the American Council for Ethanol, production of that much ethanol will require about 4.7 billion bushels of corn.

EPA said it found only nine facilities in the entire country that might be able to produce commercial qualities of cellulosic-based ethanol in 2012. Some of these have not even been built yet, the agency acknowledged. Feedstocks include corn cobs, municipal solid waste, and bagasse (fibrous material from sorghum stalks or sugarcane). Altogether, the maximum production will be 12.9 million gallons, the agency said.

“Currently there are very few, if any, facilities consistently producing cellulosic biofuel for commercial sale,” the agency noted. “Announcements of new projects and project funding, changes in project plans, project delays, and cancellations occur frequently. Biofuel producers face not only the challenge of the scale up of innovative, first-of-a-kind technology, but also the challenge of securing funding in a difficult economy.”

EPA is more optimistic about reaching targets for other sources of biofuels. The quota for biomass-based diesel was left at 1 billion gallons as specified in the RFS. Additional amounts of biofuel could be derived from imported sugarcane ethanol, additional biodiesel, or renewable diesel, the agency said.

EPA’s announcement can be found at www.epa.gov/otaq/fuels/renewablefuels/regulations.htm.

 

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