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09/03/2013
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Back to Work Making the Case for Advanced Biofuels

No American city enjoys its August vacations more than Washington. With Congress away on recess, most Washingtonians skip town for at least a week to rest and prepare for renewed policymaking in the fall. I’ll certainly confess to enjoying the sand between my toes last month!

But editorial writers did not take a similar holiday, and a trio of leading newspapers each opined in recent weeks that it is time for the federal Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) to go. These editorials in The Washington Post, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) focused primarily on concerns with corn ethanol, and the difficulty blending more than 10 percent ethanol into gasoline – the so-called “blend wall.” The editorial boards at each paper largely ignored how the RFS has spurred innovation and encouraged production of cleaner alternatives to both gasoline and conventional biofuels.

With Labor Day behind us, sugarcane ethanol producers will renew our conversations with lawmakers, reporters and opinion leaders, reminding them that:

The RFS has successfully encouraged more advanced biofuel use in the United States. Yes, cellulosic biofuels have been slower to develop than Congress anticipated. Fortunately, other advanced renewable fuels like sugarcane ethanol and biodiesel are taking up the slack. Last year, Americans consumed 1.8 billion gallons of advanced biofuels, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) expects consumption will rise to 2.75 billion gallons of ethanol equivalent in 2013 – the precise volumes called for by the RFS.

Advanced biofuels are cleaner and better for the environment than gasoline. EPA determines which fuels qualify as advanced biofuels, and a key condition for this designation is reducing lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 percent compared to fossil fuels. EPA named Brazilian sugarcane ethanol an advanced biofuel in 2010 after determining it reduces greenhouse gases by 61 percent.

Sugarcane ethanol plays a modest but important role supplying the U.S. with advanced biofuels. Last year, it comprised only 3 percent of all renewable fuel consumed by Americans, but sugarcane ethanol provided nearly one-quarter of the U.S. supply of advanced biofuels in 2012.

The RFS is fostering innovation, and more advanced biofuels are on the way. A new report from Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), a project of the Natural Resources Defense Council, finds steady improvements in technology and production capacity. It estimates a sufficient supply of advanced biofuels will be available to meet current RFS requirements through 2016. That’s the case for sugarcane ethanol. Brazilian sugarcane producers are making investments to expand production, and Americans can depend on more advanced biofuel from sugarcane.

These vital facts about the contributions of Brazilian sugarcane biofuels can get lost in the debate over renewable fuels in Washington, but we think they’re important as our two countries work together to make transportation more sustainable. So vacation is over, and it’s time to get back to work.

Leticia Phillips

Leticia Phillips is UNICA’s Representative for North America. Ms. Phillips is an expert on Brazil-US relations and leads the Brazilian sugarcane industry’s advocacy efforts before the main stakeholders in the region, including the US Congress, Federal agencies, State legislators and business and civil society.