Agriculture can and should power the flight of tomorrow

  • Friday, 22 September 2023 09:31

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Whether we face droughts, floods, blizzards, or tornadoes, Minnesotans expect agriculture to always “be there” — producing ample and affordable crops to meet demand.

Agriculture has nearly limitless capacity to deliver for Minnesotans but often faces regulatory uncertainty that hinders the ability to scale up operations. Providing clear market and regulatory signals of potential new uses for products — such as sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) produced here in the United States — could help overcome these barriers, enhance the resiliency of Minnesota agriculture and address the climate crisis.

Minnesota biofuel producers stand ready to produce SAF, but their ability to do so depends on policy outcomes in Washington and St. Paul. The federal Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) in 2022 and the state Omnibus Transportation law in 2023 both created tax credits for SAF, but it’s still unclear how a biofuel producer can measure the carbon intensity of their product or permit the technologies needed to ensure they can qualify for the credits.

Thankfully, Gov. Tim Walz, Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen, and U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack are working to ensure biofuel producers and farmers can play a role in helping decarbonize aviation.

The Biden administration will soon clarify which carbon accounting model and method determines eligibility for IRA credits. Should the administration choose to implement the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne GREET model, the latest data from federal agencies and academic institutions on crop and biofuel production will be incorporated into lifecycle analyses. Leveraging the latest science rewards farmers embracing lower-carbon production practices and ensures accuracy in carbon accounting. Congress required the use of GREET for lifecycle analyses of non-aviation fuels under separate IRA provisions, so also adopting it for SAF provides consistency across tax structures.

The alternative is to only allow an international framework called CORSIA – which uses antiquated European emissions estimates of corn and biofuel production. Adopting CORSIA would make it extremely challenging, if not impossible, for many biofuels to qualify for SAF tax credits.

Carbon accounting regulations will provide a path forward, and biofuel producers in Minnesota need greater certainty and timeliness in environmental permitting if SAF is to achieve lift-off.

Many businesses have moved outside of Minnesota due to permitting delays. Unpredictable permitting timelines limit investment and delay the installation of new equipment, technologies, and processes needed to reach net zero.

SAF has the potential to significantly reduce aviation’s carbon emissions. Minnesota farmers and biofuels producers have already helped produce transportation fuel that lowers greenhouse gas emissions by between 44 to 52% compared to traditional gasoline. They stand ready to meet the challenge on aviation fuel.

Minnesota is a top five producer of corn and ethanol, with the latter topping 15 billion gallons nationwide in 2022. These crops and fuels will be critical to the SAF movement, as farmers sell them as feedstocks to ethanol plants to produce the sustainable fuel needed to reduce aviation’s carbon emissions.

In Minnesota, that means making more than 20,000 farmers eligible to sell their feedstocks to the state’s 19 ethanol plants.

If the country is to meet the administration’s “Grand Challenge” of producing 35 billion gallons of SAF per year by 2050 — sustainably produced, lower-carbon biofuels must be eligible for the newly created SAF tax structure under the IRA.

In Minnesota, ethanol plants also need clearly defined timelines and permitting requirements for the state to become a hub for SAF and to help achieve the administration’s goal.

I applaud Gov. Walz, Commissioner Petersen, and Secretary Vilsack’s efforts to advocate on behalf of American biofuel producers and farmers who are eager to help achieve the SAF Grand Challenge’s goals, especially when it comes to Minnesota’s permitting process.

I urge the Biden administration to turn to us to get the job done in scaling up a cleaner aviation industry.