By Bob Dinneen

The climate is changing; literally—in terms of extreme weather events, and figuratively—in terms of how biofuels are viewed in the larger effort to address climate concerns. Many of you are aware of the climate change legislation being discussed in Washington, but of equal concern is the conversation underway globally.

In December, carbon reduction, energy sourcing, and sustainability will take center stage in Copenhagen, Denmark. As the United Nations convenes, global talks aimed at reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from every nation, the biofuels industry should be turning an especially keen ear.

The transportation sector is responsible for 25 percent of the world’s GHG emissions. With 3 billion cars expected soon on global roadways, the demand for transportation fuels will only increase.
Currently, the world demands 86 million barrels of oil daily, much of it destined for the fuel tanks of vehicles. The International Energy Agency estimates that six times the current amount of Saudi Arabia’s oil production needs to be discovered by 2030 to meet the predicted 64 million barrels per day increase in demand.

Unabated, such growth in demand for petroleum will only exacerbate the climate problems already being caused by our slavish dependence on oil. Ethanol, biodiesel and other biofuel technologies can and must play a role in changing our climate’s course. In the U.S., the GHG benefits of ethanol use are well-known and well-documented. The 9 billion gallons of domestic ethanol produced and consumed last year had the effect of removing 2.1 million cars from the road. Further, the U.S. EPA determined in its proposed rulemaking for the renewable fuel standard that ethanol reduced GHG emissions by 60 percent when equally compared to gasoline.Globally, the story is equally promising but less well-recognized. The IEA reported last February that GHG emissions from global ethanol production would more than double between 1995 levels and those predicted in 2015. Supporting the EPA’s findings, Natural Resources Canada determined that global grain ethanol production on a life-cyle basis will reduce GHG emissions by 60 percent by 2015.

The promise held by evolving technologies is cause for optimism. Advancements in current starch ethanol technologies and the commercialization of advanced ethanol technologies have the potential to further reduce emissions and improve the carbon footprint of transportation fuels worldwide.

Capitalizing on the promise of these emerging technologies will not be easy. Entrenched interests and those pushing ideologically utopian agendas are desperate to maintain the status quo—some for the sake of the bottom line and others in pursuit of the perfect in spite of the good. Far-fetched theories such as international indirect land use change threaten to stop the growth of current ethanol industries and prevent new technologies from entering the market.

It is widely believed that no global framework for reducing GHG emissions will be unanimously agreed to in Copenhagen. This expected inaction should not be confused with a lack of urgency to ensure biofuels are part of the discussion. Through the Global Renewable Fuels Alliance, the RFA will be actively engaging the world on the importance of biofuels and their essential role in reducing climate change. We will be refuting unfounded analysis, extolling the growing climate benefits of biofuels, and underscoring the sheer unsustainability of the status quo.

The climate is indeed changing. How our industry responds to both the literal and figurative changes will determine our future success.