January 25, 2017  
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New report looks at Second-Generation Biofuels

What challenges will the future bring for producers of second-generation biofuels? Could Brexit effect biofuel production in the UK or elsewhere in the EU? Which statutes currently regulate biofuel production in the US, and what are the EPA target goals?

These and other questions are answered by a new report titled “Global Production Of Second Generation Biofuels: Trends And Influences,” by Que Nguyen and Jim Bowyer, Dovetail Partners. The report summarizes the growth of second-generation biofuel facilities since Dovetail's 2009 report and some of the policies that drive that growth. It also briefly discusses biofuel mandates and second-generation biorefinery development in various world regions. The full report is available at dovetailinc.org.

According to the report’s executive summary, “For more than a century, fossil fuels have been the primary source of a wide array of products including fuels, lubricants, chemicals, waxes, pharmaceuticals and asphalt. In recent decades, questions about the impacts of fossil fuel reliance have led to research into alternative feedstocks for the sustainable production of those products, and liquid fuels in particular. A key objective has been to use feedstocks from renewable sources to produce biofuels that can be blended with petroleum-based fuels, combusted in existing internal combustion or flexible fuel engines, and distributed through existing infrastructure. Given that electricity can power short-distance vehicle travel, particular attention has been directed toward bio-derived jet fuel and fuels used in long distance transport.”

A few of the report’s findings include the following:

• In 2015, the U.S. produced an estimated 14.7 billion gallons (56 billion liters) of ethanol, and 1.3 billion gallons (4.8 billion liters) of biodiesel. Even as the biofuels program was being established, it was recognized that the energy balance in corn-based ethanol production was quite modest, yielding only a 28% gain in delivered energy relative to fossil energy input. A key aspect of biofuels development has involved support for research aimed at development of high-energy balance second generation fuels.

• Production of second-generation biofuels began at full commercial scale in 2015. Currently, 67 second-generation biofuel facilities operate around the world, with over one-third of these operating at commercial scale. As of 2015, 35% of the commercial installed capacity for production of second-generation ethanol worldwide was located in the US.

• Production of biofuels has helped boost rural economies, since cellulosic biofuel production facilities are generally located in rural areas where feedstocks are abundant. Bioenergy supports an estimated 2.5 million direct and indirect jobs globally, and 427,000 jobs in the United States.

The report concludes, “second generation biorefineries are operating in all regions of the world, bringing far more favorable energy balances to biofuels production than have been previously realized. Substantial displacement of a significant portion of fossil-based liquid fuels has been demonstrated to be a realistic possibility. However, in the face of low petroleum prices, continuing policy support and investment in research and development will be needed to allow biofuels to reach their full potential.”

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