each unit of biofuel produced. Technical barriers often require technical solutions to resolve; most technical challenges are addressed in research and development and demonstrated in pilot plants. However, if the solutions to technical and environmental barriers are too costly, there is still an economic barrier. Policies that could stifle the development of the cellulosic biofuels industry present barriers to achieving RFS2. Social barriers involve potential producers’ and consumers’ perception of, attitude toward, and acceptance of biofuels.
Should policymakers continue to believe that the consumption mandate of RFS2 is to be met in 2022, the barriers described in this chapter would have to be resolved. Unless these barriers are overcome, the committee concludes that the RFS2 mandate is unlikely to be attained by 2022. Removing barriers to the successful establishment of a cellulosic-biofuel industry at the scale mandated by RFS2 involves identifying potential problems at every stage of the biofuel production process and opportunities to resolve them.
The discovery, extraction, manufacture, distribution, and use of petroleum fuels have been developed and improved for over 150 years. Overcoming the barriers and displacing a significant amount of petroleum with biofuels will require time, innovation, and changes in many fundamental economic, technical, and social processes. Doing so in 11 years would be difficult, costly, and complex. Implementing changes in liquid transportation fuel while avoiding socially unacceptable disruptions requires a deep understanding of each affected component and strong commitment to change. “Drop-in” biofuels that can easily be included in the existing petroleum infrastructure are the simplest way of undertaking a fuel transition. The identification of barriers to transitioning to most other biofuels requires combining knowledge of existing infrastructure with an assessment of the desired properties of future biofuels. In some cases, opportunities to achieve economic, environmental, or social benefits are provided by the need to address particular barriers. As of 2011, the key barrier to achieving RFS2 is economic because technologies for producing cellulosic biofuel are available but not economically viable at a commercial scale,2 even with the current subsidies and mandates, under 2011 oil prices. Biofuels will only be adopted on a commercial scale if their cost to consumers is competitive with other liquid fuels. Moreover, many barriers identified in this chapter have solutions that are technically feasible, but they could increase the economic and environmental costs of biofuel production. If the economic barrier is removed, environmental and social concerns could pose barriers to producing 20 billion gallons of advanced and cellulosic biofuels in 2022. Although barriers to achieving RFS2 are identified in this chapter, the extent to which each barrier inhibits production and market penetration of biofuels is uncertain. Some barriers might not be obvious or will only be discovered when the technologies of cellulosic biofuel are implemented at a commercial scale. Therefore, commercial-scale demonstrations are critical to proving economic and environmental feasibility.
RFS2 cannot be attained without sufficient biomass availability at attractive costs. As discussed in Chapter 4, unless the prices that farmers are paid for bioenergy feedstocks delivered to the biorefinery gate reach $75-$133 per dry ton, farmers are not likely to grow or harvest the necessary amounts of bioenergy feedstock. The price a biorefinery pays for its feedstock is likely to be the largest expense in producing biofuels (Chapter 4). Some reports
2 The National Renewable Energy Laboratory defines a commercial-scale demonstration for biofuel refinery as a facility that has the capacity to process 700 dry tons of feedstock per day.