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US EPA announces updated guidance on corn kernel fibre cellulosic ethanol

US EPA announces updated guidance on corn kernel fibre cellulosic ethanol
For the first time, US ethanol will be able to successfully access 100 percent of the Japanese biofuel market (photo courtesy ORNL).

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced updated guidance for biorefineries that convert both corn kernel fibre and corn starch to fuel ethanol.  Ethanol producers now have new options for quantifying the portion that comes from starch and the portion that comes from cellulose fibre.

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The announced guidance has significant implications for many ethanol producers: they can now receive credit for these cellulose-derived fuels that are converted from corn kernel fibre.

Ethanol is a renewable fuel made from corn and other plant materials. Ethanol use is widespread, and more than 98 percent of gasoline in the U.S. contains some ethanol. The most common blend of ethanol is E10 (10 percent ethanol, 90 percent gasoline).

Cellulosic biofuels, including cellulose-derived ethanol, have at least 60 percent lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than gasoline.

One of the accepted procedures that fuel producers can use for quantification is a method that was developed jointly between the US Department of Energy (DOE),  the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

NREL developed the method and validated it through advanced analytical techniques using samples provided by NIST. Additionally, NREL facilitated a multi-laboratory test to ensure that other analytical labs could reproduce the results with commonly available equipment.

Once complete, NREL shared the results and demonstrated to EPA that this analytical procedure could achieve the required levels of method accuracy and precision.

It’s a small detail with big financial implications. Federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) incentives are available to help refiners expand their plants into ‘generation 1.5’ biorefineries – advanced facilities designed to make ethanol from both the cellulose and starch sugars present in corn grain. But without a reliable process for demonstrating the amount of cellulose in that grain, such incentives can be hard to reach. With NREL’s new method, ethanol producers are better prepared to apply for those incentives and expand their production–invigorating communities invested in providing a reliable supply of low- to zero-net-carbon ethanol, commented Zia Abdullah NREL’s Lab Program Manager in a June 2021 blog.

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