“One of the things we’re suggesting is to remove this uncertainty by updating the regulations to allow higher blending limits for biobutanol,” Slating said. “The interesting thing here is that the EPA could actually do this on their own. The regulation that effectively sets the default blending limit for biobutanol is simply an agency interpretation of an undefined phrase enacted by Congress. Specifically, the Clean Air Act says that no fuel manufacturer can commercialize a new fuel that is not ‘substantially similar’ to the fuel that the EPA uses in its emissions certification process. As Congress opted to not specify what constitutes a ‘substantially similar’ fuel, the task is left to the EPA’s discretion.”
“The permissible blending limits for alcohol-based biofuels are closely tied to the oxygen content of the finished fuel,” Kesan said. “In the past, the EPA has agreed that fuels containing up to a certain oxygen-content have no negative effects on engine emissions. Well, if that’s the case, then let’s simplify the regulations and allow all fuels to contain this level of oxygen. This would provide a larger potential market for biobutanol manufacturers without the need for them to endure the unnecessary uncertainty associated with trying to rely on a pre-existing fuel waiver.”
A fast-track review process should also be created for new fuel waivers relating to emerging biofuels that have been designated as compliant with the Renewable Fuel Standard, the authors argue.
“If the RFS is going to achieve its goal of incentivizing the deployment of second-generation biofuels, then manufacturers need to be assured that there will be no unnecessary delay in the fuel waiver process,” Slating said. “While Congress intended this process to focus on a fuel’s effects on engine emissions, opponents of biofuels have tried to turn the process into a forum to debate every aspect of biofuel production and use.”
The authors also contend that new biofuels like biobutanol have the potential to spur rural economic development.
“Since the biomass feedstocks needed to produce liquid biofuels are cultivated in rural areas, an expansion in the use of biofuels will increase demand for these biomass feedstocks and act as a driver for rural economic development,” Kesan said. “The facilities needed to convert these biomass feedstocks into biofuels will also likely be sited in rural areas for logistical reasons, and this too will be a boon for rural economies.
“A confluence of interests would be furthered by revamping the way we regulate biofuels.”
The research will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Wisconsin Law Review.