Cellulosic ethanol court battle and plant construction

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency might voluntarily rescind a decision on its 2011 cellulosic biofuel requirement, a move that would represent a win for oil groups that have filed lawsuits contesting the cellulosic volumes stipulated by the EPA in the renewable fuel standard.

In 2011, EPA mandated that refiners blend 6.6 million gallons of cellulosic biofuel into the nation's gasoline supply, though the agency did not recognize any of the fuel actually being produced in the U.S.

“In lawsuits, the American Petroleum Institute, American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers and the Western States Petroleum Association took issue with both the 2011 target itself and a decision by the agency last spring to deny petitions challenging the requirement. The groups have long argued that the number was unrealistic and forced refiners to pay to not use fuel that doesn't yet exist in the market,” wrote Amanda Peterka, and E&E news service online reporter.

The court last year struck down EPA's 2012 cellulosic requirement, finding that it wasn't realistic, and in February, EPA decided to zero out its target volume.

Although the cellulosic ethanol goals have been unrealistic, significant progress is finally being made to have cellulosic ethanol volumes available for use in gasoline. An example is ZeaChem Inc. recently activating a 250,000-gallon-a-year cellulosic ethanol refinery in Boardman, Ore. The demonstration plant will convert woody biomass and “agricultural residues” into both cellulosic ethanol and intermediate chemicals such as acetic acid and ethyl acetate.

E&E Reporter Peterka wrote that ZeaChem has partnered with local tree farm GreenWood Resources, Valero Energy Corp. and Chrysler Group LLC to build its first commercial-scale plant in Boardman adjacent to the demonstration facility. When completed, this plant is designed to produce 25 million gallons per year of ethanol and byproducts.

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