Even as larger-scale producers of cellulosic ethanol shutter their plants, a handful of small-volume producers are staying the course. One of them, northwestern Iowa’s Quad County Corn Processors, has been using its distinctive distilling method to make cellulosic ethanol since 2014.
Five years ago, King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands joined Gov. Terry Branstad at a biofuels plant in northwestern Iowa to inaugurate commercial-scale production of cellulosic ethanol. This week, the owner of that facility announced it would no longer produce the so-called “second-generation” renewable fuel at the plant.
The Trump administration proposed a Renewable Fuel Standard of 20.04 billion gallons for 2020, meaning no change in corn ethanol's share of the gasoline market for cars and light trucks, while the share of that market going to cleaner-burning cellulosic ethanol, made from grass and woody plants, will increase by 120 million gallons. Farm groups and biofuel makers, who opened the summer with a celebration that higher-blend E15 was approved for year-round sale, said the EPA bowed to Big Oil.
The White House is taking a break from biofuels policy, at least temporarily, after two meetings with President Trump at the table failed to find consensus between the oil and ethanol industries. The only agreement, according to Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, who was part of both meetings, "was to look at economic studies" about the impact of the Renewable Fuel Standard and possible changes.
Miscanthus, a fast-growing grass often grown as a biofuel, is now planted on six military sites, from Kansas to Kazakhstan, in a three-year NATO-run effort to clean up contaminated soil. At a conference earlier this month at Kansas State University, researchers reported that the grass stabilizes contaminants in the soil, preventing them from escaping into the air and water, and then gradually absorbs them.
Corn ethanol represents the first generation of biofuels. Cellulosic ethanol, made from grass, woody plants, and crop debris, was supposed to be the second generation.
In another sign of trouble for so-called advanced biofuels, the newly created giant corporation DowDuPont stopped operations at its $225 million cellulosic ethanol plant in Nevada, Iowa, and hopes to find a buyer for the plant with a 30-million-gallon-a-year capacity, said the Des Moines Register. Last December, Abengoa Bioenergy sold its cellulosic plant in Hugoton, Kan., for pennies on the dollar as part of a bankruptcy liquidation of assets.
Farm-state officials played their Trump card six weeks ago, calling in White House support to quash potential cuts in the Renewable Fuel Standard, which sets U.S. targets for biofuel consumption.
EPA administrator Scott Pruitt quelled midwestern protests over a potential change in course by the Trump administration, saying there would be no additional cuts in the biofuels mandate proposed for 2018. But two groups, the National Biodiesel Board and the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, said the government ought to raise the target for biodiesel.