At CERAWeek, biofuels are the solution

(Journal stock photo.)

Recently, I was delighted to sit on the “Business Models to Scale Biofuels” panel at CERAWeek. My message to attendees—which included United States government officials, investors, refiners, industry stakeholders and potential customers around the world —was that biofuels like bioethanol are the key to staying competitive in a carbon-neutral world.

Emily Skor is CEO of Growth Energy. (Courtesy photo.)

Among the topics driving our conversation was the sharp ascent of renewable diesel, which has changed the dynamics of the Renewable Fuel Standard and created a broader base of political support for biofuels. We are also seeing increasingly integrated supply chains that span agricultural, biotech, refining, research and distribution stakeholders, along with a fast-growing ecosystem of new enterprises focused on low-carbon feedstocks and end products.

Bridging a needed gap

These dynamics are nothing new for biofuels. We’ve always been a bridge between the agriculture and energy sectors, particularly when you’re talking about all the work we’ve done getting more biofuels into American fuel tanks through the expanded use of E15, a blend of gasoline and 15% bioethanol.

Higher blends like E15 are a critical part of our industry, and they are a key way for us to reduce carbon emissions from the light-duty vehicles that are on the road today. I stressed this point in the many conversations I had at CERAWeek, urging the broader energy community not to overlook higher blends as a means to lower carbon intensity in today’s auto fleet while generating new business.

Sustainable aviation fuel

Beyond E15, however, today we’re seeing a surge in new opportunities for partnerships on everything from sustainable aviation fuel to green chemicals and bioethanol coproducts like food-grade CO2 and nutrient-rich animal feed. At the same time, growth in one biofuel can impact opportunities for another, as with the use of a bioethanol coproduct—corn oil—for the production of renewable diesel.

For example, the SAF market offers the potential to reach 20 to 25 billion gallons, which would require 36 billion gallons of bioethanol – nearly twice the volume of bioethanol produced annually in the U.S. today. SAF wouldn’t be made entirely with a bioethanol feedstock, but it is the biggest market opportunity for this industry since the 1970s, and bioethanol remains one of the only feedstocks that both lowers carbon emissions and is scalable to meet demand.

Bioethanol works

Bioethanol also enables the commercialization of a number of coproducts like high-protein animal feed and biogenic CO2. These remain critical to revenue growth, particularly with high-protein animal feed, which is projected to increase from approximately $10 billion to $15 billion by 2030. With revenue like this, bioethanol producers can insulate long-term investments against price swings and shifting fuel demand.

Greater access to bioethanol also enables emissions reductions in hard-to-electrify portions of the transportation sector, including aviation, marine and freight. For example, Growth Energy member ClearFlame Engine Technologies has released technology to allow diesel trucks to run purely on renewable fuels like bioethanol. They have also partnered with John Deere to bring lower-emission diesel engines to the ag sector.

Bipartisan support

Lawmakers are recognizing those new opportunities. In fact, they recently introduced the Renewable Fuel for Ocean-Going Vessels Act, which could provide incentives for decarbonizing marine shipping.

We know from experience that we need to work together across the supply chain to expand these market opportunities – just as the bioethanol sector has done in its work with consumer-facing fuel retailers on E15 and E85. That is why Growth Energy is working hard to educate our policymakers, suppliers and customers alike about the factors that will drive growth in the years to come.

The American experience with biofuels has proven their value across the board. Now leaders around the world are looking for solutions that will reduce emissions, decarbonize the transportation sector and meet their human health goals. Biofuels are that solution.

Emily Skor is the CEO of Growth Energy, a leading voice in the biofuels industry.