Biofuel mandates are not just for the United States

Biofuels are supported by many governments throughout the world.

The United States has adopted policies to mandate the use of biofuels in blends with petroleum fuels. The primary policy that details the volume of biofuels that must be used in the United States is the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS). The RFS was created in 2005 and was expanded by the Energy Independence and Security Act. The most recent revisions to this policy are known as RFS2 which “lays the foundation for achieving significant reductions of greenhouse gas emissions from the use of renewable fuels, for reducing imported petroleum, and encouraging the development and expansion of our nation’s renewable fuels sector.” The mandates began in 2006 with four billion gallons and increase over time to reach 36 billion gallons by 2022. At this time, the mandates work out to replace about 10 percent of the gasoline with ethanol (over 13 billion gallons) and about 2 percent of the diesel fuel is replaced by biodiesel (over one billion gallons).

We are not alone in our desire to protect our environment, national security and improve local economies. According to Iowa State University’s Robert Wisner in the Feb. 2013 AgMRC Renewable Energy & Climate Change Newsletter, “At least 60 countries outside the United States are in various stages of implementing or expanding mandated blending of biodiesel or ethanol in motor fuels.”

Most countries in the world have mandates that are lower than the 10 percent ethanol blend which the United States is currently using. A couple of interesting exceptions are Brazil which mandates blends of 20 to 25 percent ethanol blended with gasoline, and the European Union which has a standard of using B7 which is a blend of 7 percent biodiesel with 93 percent petroleum diesel.

As many governments develop policies to increase biofuel use, consequences are evaluated. While some effects are positive such as domestic economic development, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and increased export potential, others may cause concern. One such consequence that is getting attention is the feedstock source to produce the biofuels. Many crops grown for vegetable oil and grain have multiple uses including feed and food use. The European Union is considering a limit on fuels produced from food or feed crops, which means that additional fuels would need to be made from waste materials. Also, China has required that new biofuel production facilities are not to use food or feed products or feedstocks from land that would normally produce them.

Development of additional supplies of biofuels around the world will likely be based on local competitive advantages such as sugar cane to ethanol in South America and technology advancements in cellulosic ethanol and waste to fuels. If technology, knowledge and innovativeness are important to the future of biofuels, the United States is in a strong position to take full advantage of the opportunities that are available. Michigan State University and Michigan State University Extension have made investments in these areas that could help put Michigan in a strong position in the future.

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