Changes in E.P.A. Mandates for Reusable Fuels and Cellulosic Biofuel Production Techniques

According to an article published yesterday by Reuters (a U.K. and Canadian based news company linked to the BBC’s website), the U.S. E.P.A. has changed their mandate for quantity of renewable fuels produced.  In November of 2008, the E.P.A. set a standard that 10.21% of fuels must come from renewable resources.  They have now reduced this to 8.25%.  The greatest reduction, however, is not that of total quantity of biofuels produced, but rather the quantity of cellulosic ethanol produced this year.  A total of 100 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol was supposed to be produced this year based on the former standards.  The E.P.A. has now lowered this quantity to 6.5 million.  The policy change was made after 30 companies said they could not be able to produce the previously required 100 million gallons.

From this report, it appears that the E.P.A. established a number of “thresholds” based on 2005 emission standards.  These thresholds are varying degrees of improvement for greenhouse gas emissions.  The E.P.A. claims that algae-based biodiesel, soy oil, vegetable oil, and other waste oils/fats are capable of meeting the 50% threshold for reduction in greenhouse gases from 2005 diesel (petroleum based) standards.  Ethanol and diesel derived from cellulose meets 60% reduction standards.

The E.P.A. claims that promising, new methods of producing these cellulosic biofuels are being created by Professor Robin Rogers of The University of Alabama and many chemical companies.  As most people know, cellulose is extremely difficult to break down.  Hence, a large portion of the energy used for production of cellulosic biofuel is simply wasted in breaking the cellulose down into more simple molecules.  After this is done, the product from that reaction must form more complex polymers.  Professor Rogers’ technique reduces the energy needed and increases the efficiency.  Rogers found 1-butyl-3-methylimidazolium chloride ([C4mim]Cl), a low-melting ionic liquid, dissolves cellulose without the extra steps.  The ionic liquid can be reused without distillation: cation exchange or “salting-out” methods restore it to usable condition.

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