Biofuels and the Environment
Notice: EPA announced the availability of the Biofuels and the Environment: Third Triennial Report to Congress (External Review Draft) for a 60-day public comment period. The deadline for comments is Mar 6, 2023. [Federal Register Notice Jan 3, 2023]
Biofuels are derived from renewable biological materials such as ethanol from corn starch, corn stover, perennial grasses, woody biomass, and algae, and diesel from soybeans. Currently available biofuels are made from sugar crops (sugarcane, sugarbeet); starch crops (corn, potatoes); oilseed crops (soybean, sunflower, rapeseed); and animal fats. Sugar and starch crops are converted through a fermentation process to form bioalcohols, including ethanol (the most widely used), butanol, and propanol. Oils and animal fats can be processed into biodiesel. Most vehicles built after 2000 can use gasoline-ethanol blends containing up to 15% ethanol (by volume). Currently there are about 3,500 fueling stations in the U.S. that offer E-85 fuel, most of which are in the upper Midwest.
Replacing fossil fuels with biofuels has the potential to reduce some undesirable environmental impacts of fossil fuel production and use, including conventional and greenhouse gas (GHG) pollutant emissions, exhaustible resource depletion, and dependence on unstable foreign suppliers. Demand for biofuels could also increase farm income. Biofuel production and use has drawbacks as well, including land and water resource requirements, air and ground water pollution. Depending on the feedstock and production process, biofuels can emit even more GHGs than some fossil fuels on an energy -equivalent basis.
Biofuel Reports to Congress
In 2007, Congress enacted the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) with the stated goals of “mov[ing] the United states toward greater energy independence and security [and] to increase the production of clean renewable fuels.” In accordance with these goals, EISA revised the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) Program, which was created under the 2005 Energy Policy Act and is administered by EPA, to increase the volume of renewable fuel required to be blended into transportation fuel to 36 billion gallons per year by 2022. Section 204 of EISA directs EPA, in consultation with the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Energy, to assess and report triennially to Congress on the environmental and resource conservation impacts of the RFS Program.
- Analyze impacts across the full life cycle of biofuels, including the production and transportation of feedstocks and the production, distribution, and use of biofuels.
- Access environmental impacts, including air, water, and soil quality.
- Access resource conservation impacts, including soil conservation, water availability, land use changes, and ecosystem health and biodiversity.
- Evaluate environmental and agricultural impacts resulting from the growth and use of cultivated invasive plants.
The first report to Congress was completed in 2011 and provided an assessment of the environmental and resource conservation impacts associated with increased biofuel production and use (EPA/600/R-10/183F). The overarching conclusions of this first report were: (1) the environmental impacts of increased biofuel production and use were likely negative but limited in impact; (2) there was a potential for both positive and negative impacts in the future; and (3) EISA goals for biofuels production could be achieved with minimal environmental impacts if best practices were used and if technologies advanced to facilitate the use of second-generation biofuel feedstocks (corn stover, perennial grasses, woody biomass, algae, and waste).
The second report to Congress was completed in 2018 and reaffirmed the overarching conclusions of the 2011 Report (EPA/600/R-18/195). The 2018 Report noted that the biofuel production and use conditions that led to the conclusions of the 2011 Report had not materially changed, and that the production of biofuels from cellulosic feedstocks anticipated by both the EISA and the 2011 Report had not materialized. Noting observed increases in acreage for corn and soybean production in the period prior to and following implementation of the RFS2 Program, the 2018 Report concluded that the environmental and resource conservation impacts associated with land use change were likely due, at least in part, to the RFS and associated production of biofuel feedstocks.
EPA, in consultation with USDA and DOE, is currently developing the third report to Congress, which will build on the conclusions of the previous two reports. Opportunities for public engagement will be announced in Federal Register Notices.
|2023||EPA released the Biofuels and the Environment: Third Triennial Report to Congress (External Review Draft) for public comment. [Federal Register Notice Jan 3, 2023]|
|2022||In Aug 2022, EPA put out a call for the public to review and comment on a few additional candidates to serve on the external peer review committee. [Federal Register Notice Aug 1, 2022]|
|2022||In May 2202, EPA put out a call for the public to review and comment on the list of potential candidates for the upcoming peer review panel for review of the draft report. [Federal Register Notice May 9, 2022]|
|2022||In Feb 2022, EPA announced a call for nomination of experts for the upcoming peer review panel for review of the draft report. [Federal Register Notice Feb 1, 2022]|
|2018||In Jun 2018, EPA released the report Biofuels and the Environment: The Second Triennial Report to Congress. This is the second Biofuels Report to Congress Report.|
|2013||In Jul 2013, EPA continued to advance it's understanding of the environmental costs and benefits of biofuels to society through several recent research efforts and published papers that were added to the EPA web site.|
|2012||EPA released the report Biofuels and the Environment: the First Triennial Report to Congress (2011). This is the first Biofuels Report to Congress Report.|
|2010||In Nov 2010, EPA released the report 2011 Renewable Fuel Standards.|
|2009||In Sep 2009, EPA released the State BIOEnergy Primer: Information and Resources for States on Issues, Opportunities, and Options for Advancing Bioenergy (PDF, 104pp, 5.25Mb, About PDF)|
|2009||In May 2009, EPA released the primer, EPA and Biofuels: A Primer on EPA's Authorities, Responsibilities, and Research (PDF) and the "Plan for the Nation's Increase in Renewable Fuels".|
|2007||Congress enacted the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) .|
|2006||In Dec 2006, EPA released the companion report, Boutique Fuels Report to Congress (EPA/420/R-06/901) (PDF, 34pp, 257Kb, About PDF) [Find out what "boutique fuels" are.]|
|1990||In Apr 1990, EPA released the report, Analysis of the Economic and Environmental Effects of Ethanol as an Automotive Fuel (EPA/420/R-90/102) (PDF, 288pp, 10 Mb, About PDF).|
|1970||The Clean Air Act of 1970 established and required periodic review of two types of standards that limit permissible amounts of the criteria pollutants. Primary standards set limits to protect public health, including the health of sensitive populations such as asthmatics, children, and the elderly. Secondary standards set limits to protect against visibility impairment, damage to ecosystems and to animals, crops, vegetation, and buildings. [The Plain English Guide to the Clean Air Act]|
- U.S. EPA. Biofuels and the Environment: the First Triennial Report to Congress (2011 Final Report). U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, EPA/600/R-10/183F, 2011.
- U.S. EPA. Biofuels and the Environment: The Second Triennial Report to Congress. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, EPA/600/R-18/195, 2018.