On the campaign trail, Barack Obama made a lot of promises about renewable fuels, including one about producing 60 billion gallons of advanced biofuels by 2030.
Before we dig into this promise, it's useful to sort through a little treehugger jargon. Advanced biofuels are not just any biofuels; they're often made from agricultural leftovers, such as corn stalks, wood chips and even algae. Because advanced biofuels don't necessarily require precious farmland, fertilizer and fossil fuels to grow, they're arguably better for the environment.
That said, there are some hurdles to making advanced biofuels. Generally speaking, the production process is still expensive and more complicated than, say, making corn ethanol.
The Obama administration has been taking steps here and there to accelerate advanced biofuel research and development and to expand commercialization.
The stimulus bill, for example, was full of incentives for advanced biofuels — about $786.5 million to be exact. The money is meant to find ways to make advanced biofuels cheaper, faster and more abundant, according to a White House news release.
The Department of Energy is also in the process of expanding the Renewable Fuel Standard, an existing mandate that requires gasoline to be blended with ethanol or diesel with biodiesel, from 9 billion gallons of blended fuel to 36 billion gallons by 2022. (With the passage of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, the EPA is required to make these changes.)
Under the new requirement, certain amounts of advanced biofuels and cellulosic ethanol — ethanol that's made from wood and grass, among other things — would be required every year. For example, by 2016, gasoline will be blended with 4.25 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol and 7.25 billion gallons of advanced biofuels. Those amounts would increase to 5.5 billion gallons and 9 billion gallons in 2017, respectively.
So, while the Renewable Fuels Standard increases the amount of advanced biofuels we create and use in the United States, Obama's mandates so far fall short of his original promise. We're going to keep our eye on this promise, but for now, we'll move it to In the Works.