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John Roach
John Roach
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Report: Ethanol May Have to Wait Longer for Sustainable Aviation Fuel - Hil Anderson, Roach Ag Daily Grain Plan Ruling

The ethanol industry and the nation’s corn growers may have to wait until the end of the year, rather than later this month, to find out if the U.S. Department of Treasury will make it easier for them to qualify for tax credits and subsidies that will lead to the expanded use of ethanol to produce sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

“At issue is a requirement in last year’s Inflation Reduction Act that SAF producers seeking tax credits must demonstrate with an approved scientific model that their fuel generates 50% less greenhouse gas emissions over its lifecycle than petroleum fuel,” Reuters said.

The ethanol industry has been lobbying for a scientific model that opens the door to a potentially significant role for ethanol as a feedstock for SAF in the air-transportation sector, but environmentalists argue the production of corn generates greenhouse gas emissions and that priority should be given to waste products such as used cooking oils and animal fat left over from food processing.

Differences of opinion also exist over the complex tracking of emissions generated in the production process, including changes to land use and carbon sequestered in the soil after a crop is harvested.

Agriculture has a lot riding on how the SAF debate plays out. Ethanol production in the Midwest could conceivably find a substantial new market before the gradual growth of electric vehicles cuts into their role as a gasoline additive. The soybean sector is already riding a wave of biofuel expansion; StoneX recently projected steady annul increases in crushing capacity to nearly 3 billion bushels per year by the end of the decade.

There are also new SAF production plants on the slate in the United States. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., announced a partnership late last month to launch an SAF production project to serve the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport. “Homegrown sustainable aviation fuel is not only an economic generator for communities across the state,” Klobuchar said. “It is also an important tool to help us reduce our carbon footprint.

Earlier this year, United Airlines joined a partnership aimed at making ethanol SAF easier to produce. The airline said at the time that food waste likely will not be plentiful enough to ensure an adequate supply of SAF to meet increasing demand.

The crux of the matter is the methodology that will be used to determine the total carbon emissions from the production of ethanol aviation fuel. There are currently two of these complex modeling programs in use: the Greenhouse Gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy Use in Transportation (GREET) model, which was developed by the U.S. Department of Energy, and the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), which was launched by the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

The ethanol industry prefers the GREET model since its land-use provisions are less stringent; however, environmental organizations prefer CORSIA, which favors the use of waste products over new crops. The ICAO announced this summer it had certified initial loads of CORSIA-compliant SAF produced in China, the Netherlands, and the United States.

As is often the case in the nation’s capital, agency deliberations over such high-stakes questions don’t always occur in a vacuum. Farm state lawmakers banded together this summer to introduce the Sustainable Aviation Fuels Accuracy Act of 2023, a bipartisan, industry-backed move to settle debate outright by allowing ethanol producers to use GREET in their emissions modeling to meet the technical definition of an SAF.

“Our measure ensures America’s domestic energy production is driven by the U.S. GREET model rather than relying on the current international model dictated by foreign countries like Russia and China,” said Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa.

Iowa’s senior Senator, Republican Charles Grassley, dismissed the competing models as “outdated” and as “market barriers.”

“Our bill fixes the problem by requiring the FAA reference the most accurate GREET model for emissions, which is consistent with many other federal agencies,” said Grassley. “It would be a win for Iowa agriculture and the environment.”


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