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Expanding Biofuel Production and the Transition to Advanced Biofuels: Lessons for Sustainability from the Upper Midwest - Summary of a Workshop
will establish annual payments to offset risks for biomass growers and will cover most of the costs of preparing the land and planting the crops.1 Biofuel producers can receive similar payments through BCAP to cover the costs of collection, harvest, storage, and transportation of biomass from fields to processing facilities.
Discussions on U.S. energy policy were particularly fervent during the workshop, in part, because at the time the U.S. Congress was debating major climate legislation. Most participants expressed frustration with the current lack of an integrated U.S. energy and climate policy with clear goals and objectives. They described current policies as often inconsistent, not always based on the best science, and often perversely influencing markets. While the EISA provisions requiring some biofuels to meet GHG targets were applauded, many participants were disappointed by the act’s failure to create any incentives for corn-based ethanol producers to reduce emission levels or encourage performance improvements.
Similarly, EISA’s failure to require that new production meet standards beyond those set for GHG emissions was seen, by a number of workshop participants, as problematic from a sustainability perspective. For example, EISA does not set targets for water efficiency. The prospect that new climate legislation would override EPA’s decisions to include indirect land-use change as part of the calculation of GHG emissions was seen as a direct assault on science, since research studies have made it clear that expansion of land used for biofuel production will result in some indirect effects. While agreeing that these effects are difficult to measure, these participants pointed out that they need to be recognized.
Others suggested that more effective U.S. energy policies should be based on clear measures of performance, rather than incentivizing the production of particular energy feedstocks and technologies. Such policies would allow industry freedom and flexibility to innovate and tailor products to specific goals, such as fuel efficiency or reduced carbon emissions.
There continues to be considerable uncertainty about future feedstocks and technologies. While a number of possible feedstocks have been touted as environmentally preferable to corn and as effective sources for making advanced biofuels, participants raised many questions:
What are the best feedstocks for particular soil, water, and climatic conditions?
How much more difficult will it be to transport cellulosic feedstocks to refineries?
Will these new energy crops compete for land now used for food crops?