From Barrio Logan to La Jolla, new biofuel quotas welcomed

San Diego biofuel ventures, from Barrio Logan to La Jolla, are likely to benefit from new proposed quotas for mixing renewable fuels into the traditional U.S. fuel supply for vehicles.

The proposal from the Environmental Protection Agency would allow for gradual increases in renewable fuel levels through 2017 by linking quotas for last year to what was actually produced.

The result would allow for some growth in corn ethanol and more room for fuels derived from recycled cooking oil along with newer feedstocks such as algae, the jatropha plant and corn ethanol byproducts, according to industry experts.

“I think that the EPA definitely did their best to give the biodiesel industry what we asked for, which was some steady growth and certainty,” said Jennifer Case, president of Barrio Logan-based New Leaf Biofuel, which recycles cooking oil from hundreds of area restaurants for use in transportation fuels. “Everyone can kind of get back to work.”

New Leaf experienced cutbacks and layoffs as the federal government spent more than a year wrestling with how to rein in aggressive goals for renewable fuels set by Congress in 2005 and 2007. Many of the goals are no longer seen as realistic.

Case is encouraged by proposed annual increases in volumes for biodiesel under two renewable fuel categories, though she is wary of increased competition from abroad.

The new rules also allow for growth in the relatively tiny market for cellulosic biofuels produced from wood, grasses and other inedible plants and algae. That could give a boost to related research and development in San Diego region, where companies such as La Jolla-based Synthetic Genomics and Sapphire Energy have sprung up during the past decade to exploit algae’s properties for biofuels.

“I think the signal that they’re sending the investment community is the federal government has the back of advanced biofuels developers,” said Matt Carr, executive director of the Algae Biomass Organization, a nonprofit trade group.

He said that protracted deliberations at the EPA have had a chilling effect on investments until now.

The new EPA proposal would become final by the end of November after a public comment period and hearings. It would increase the total volume of renewable fuel required by 1.5 billion gallons, or roughly 9 percent, by the end of 2016.

The U.S. renewable fuel program is designed to reduce greenhouse gas emission linked to global warming and reduce dependence on foreign oil. It is backed by corn growers, who sell almost a third of their crop to fuel producers, and opposed by the oil industry.

The administration of President Barack Obama also pledged $100 million to help install ethanol blending pumps at service stations that allow drivers to choose higher blends of ethanol than the standard 10 percent.

About 2.9 billion gallons of the U.S. fuel market is set aside for so-called advanced biofuels that result in less than half the carbon emissions of traditions fuels.

By 2016, nearly 10 percent of all U.S. transportation fuels would be from renewable sources.


Photo: Research Associate Levi Williams samples algae from controlled growth reactors at Sapphire Energy in La Jolla. — Hayne Palmour IV

View original article at: From Barrio Logan to La Jolla, new biofuel quotas welcomed



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