Palm-oil based bio-diesel does not meet the standard of the federal government’s renewable fuels program due to high greenhouse gas emissions, and thus should not be developed, says an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulatory filing from Jan. 27.
The EPA reportedly conducted an extensive lifecycle analysis on palm oil production before making the decision. Biodiesel and renewable diesel produced from palm oil, according to the EPA analysis, do not meet the lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) minimum. Biodiesel rated at 17 percent, while renewable diesel yielded 11 percent.
According to the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, an amendment to the Clean Air Act, lifecycle GHG’s should be at a minimum of 20 percent. If the entire production process of a fuel under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program does not reach this threshold, then oil companies cannot use palm oil fuels to meet renewable fuel standards.
Other alternatives for the biofuel industry are recycled cooking grease or animal fat based fuels.
Despite the snag, industry leaders remain optimistic about the future role and use of biofuels.
Using numbers released by the EPA, the National Biodiesel Board (NBB) released a statement on Friday recognizing “a key milestone” of producing 1 billion gallons of biodiesel in 2011.
“We’ve been seeing a lot of stories about setbacks in the renewable energy sector recently,” said Anne Steckel, the NBB’s vice president of federal affairs, in a statement on the group’s website. “I think our success in 2011 reflects the bigger picture reality, which is that strong energy policy is working to stimulate production of clean, American-made energy.”
Steckel acknowledged the importance of the RFS program, and federal support. “Specifically, our success clearly demonstrates that the biodiesel tax incentive and the Renewable Fuel Standard are working just as Congress envisioned,” she said, noting the industry “is creating jobs, reducing our dependence on imported fuel, and improving the environment.”
The analysis of lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions required a comprehensive and timely evaluation. The models that the EPA assembled for the analysis included information that takes into account the energy and emissions that go into the production of feedstocks including the fuel used in that production. Distribution, use, and economic models that measure changing markets are all used to calculate GHGs.
Ninety percent of the world’s palm oil is produced in Malaysia and Indonesia. The EPA used advanced satellite imagery to assess these two regions geographically in their analysis. The purpose was to determine possible future palm production expansion areas and label these areas accordingly.
The EPA decision may be viewed as a victory for many conservation groups across the world that have been rallying against Malaysia’s destruction of precious rain forests for palm oil fields.A federal program, the RFS uses palm oil as feedstock to produce biodiesel and renewable diesel. Data from analysis of stages of feedstock production, including generation, distribution, and delivery can be found on the EPA website.