As part of a yearly legal ritual, the EPA just released their fuel standard requirements for 2011 and though the overall green fuel targets have remained, the same amount of cellulosic biofuel (biofuel derived from wood, grasses, or the non-edible parts of plants that produces 85% less emissions than gasoline) required to be mixed in with the American fuel supply has been cut. Congress stipulated in the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act that by 2011 we should be adding 250 million gallons of cellulosic biofuel to our fuel supply but it turns out that we’re actually only going to be able to produce a mere 6.6 million gallons of biofuel next year (which really puts them in a bind). The EPA explains that they’d love to be able to meet that mark but the projected biofuel production capacity of 2011 just isn’t up to par.

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The 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act mandates that each November the EPA sets ever increasing standards for renewable fuel to be consumed in the United States in order to reach their goal of having 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels mixed into the American fuel supply by 2022. To meet the goals set, production companies have to mix the correct amounts of renewable fuel into the regular fuel supply. The EPA sets each year’s goals with the 2022 end point in mind, but they must remain realistic and consider the projected production capacity for the coming year.

This year, it turns out that capital for large-scale commercial cellulosic biofuel production plants is in short supply and thus the needed raw materials just don’t exist. The EPA and their fuel standards are in a Catch 22 situation – by requiring more cellulosic biofuels you will create a demand and therefore drive capital toward the market. However in the short term you’ll be setting an unreachable goal for American fuel providers but if you don’t set the goals high enough you just might never reach your lofty targets.

By reducing the standard for cellulosic biofuels, EPA is accurately reflecting the difficulties cellulosic biofuel technologies have encountered in obtaining the capital needed to fully commercialize,” Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, said in a statement. “However, being aware of this fact, EPA should have been and must be careful to keep cellulosic biofuel targets ambitious so as to stimulate the kind of investment these technologies need to finish commercialization.” Though the cellulosic biofuel targets for 2011 are laughable compared to the targets set in 2007, the overall consumption of biofuels for the coming year will remain the same. A total of 1.35 billion gallons of advanced biofuels will enter the fuel market in 2011 — that number is nothing to laugh at — and the missing millions of gallons of cellulosic biofuels must be made up by other accepted biofuels and ethanol is not one of them.

+ EPA Fuel Standards

+ Environmental Protection Agency