By Tim Rudnicki, Esq
The details might be complicated, but the overarching blueprint is straightforward: continue to grow the biofuels industry AND build out the biobased feedstock industry.
On the continuum of an industry's development, the biofuel industry in Minnesota is very young. Relative to other Minnesota industries, such as agriculture and mining, the biofuels industry is just getting started. Nevertheless, the latest economic analysis of the Minnesota-based biofuels industry finds it supports 48,506 jobs with wages close to $3 billion and has a total annual economic impact of approximately $11.7 billion. And today's Minnesota-based biofuels industry still has room to grow.
More than two years ago the United States Environmental Protection Agency approved the use of E15 (that's a blend of 15% ethanol and 85% petroleum gasoline) for use in vehicles from model year 2001 to the present. If we focused on the current law and if all the owners of those vehicles had access to and chose to use E15 (when it's available, they do indeed use it), Minnesota would nearly triple the amount of biofuel used within the State. That outcome would have spin off benefits for the biofuels industry, Minnesota consumers and the environment.
Who is the Minnesota biofuels industry? It's the men and women that live and work throughout Minnesota. Some of the more than 48,000 jobs supported by the industry include those who live and work in the metro area of Minneapolis and St. Paul as well as in Minnesota’s rural communities where the production plants are located. All these men and women provide a broad range of products and services. The products provided for the biofuels industry include, for example, renewable ingredients, enzymes, all the processing tanks and related production equipment. Similarly, the scope of services is broad. It covers, for instance, finance, transportation, communications and engineering to name a few.
In practical terms, Minnesota made biofuels support thousands of Minnesotans, keep energy dollars at home on Main Street and add to the vitality of rural communities.
How do consumers benefit from increased use of biofuels? The short answer is this: an ample supply of less expensive, renewable biofuels decreases the demand for more expensive finite petroleum. Biofuels helped Minnesota consumers save nearly $2 billion dollars in 2012 because biofuels, such as ethanol, held down the price of petroleum gasoline. Today, biofuels continue to hold down the price of petroleum gasoline. By keeping the bioeconomy blueprint focused on building up the existing biofuel industry, more renewable fuel will be available to continue holding down the price of gasoline. That’s good for people who live and work here in Minnesota.
What are the environmental benefits associated with expanding the use of existing biofuels in Minnesota? Briefly, studies by Argonne National Laboratory and other reputable science based organizations find ethanol made from corn starch has a lifecycle greenhouse gas emission (GHG) footprint that is up to 57% lower than petroleum. Even when counting the energy used to plant, cultivate, harvest, process and use biofuels, the GHG emissions for biofuels is significantly lower compared to petroleum. Right here, right now, nearly 85% of the vehicles on the highway today can be using a lower GHG fuel with existing vehicle technology. Regular engines in 2001 and newer vehicles can use E15, a 5% higher blend of ethanol compared to regular unleaded gasoline at most retail fuel stations. Let’s not forget that green plants are the best solar collectors, and its that renewable plant material that is used to make biofuels.
Where do biobased feedstocks, that displace petroleum, fit on the bioeconomy blueprint? Next to, not in place of, biofuels. The bioeconomy blueprint is not about picking one over the other, but instead building synergy between one and the other. A truly growth oriented and sustainable bioeconomy will focus on expanding the use of both biofuels and biobased feedstocks which can be used in paints, adhesives, inks and resins to name a few uses.
This basic blueprint is offered in the hope we can build upon the discussion now taking place in Minnesota. Let’s work together to find ways to expand the success in the biofuels industry and to build upon that success in ways that can further grow the biobased feed stock industry. If we do this the correct way, Minnesota will be a leader on this front. Most importantly, we can further improve the environment and quality of life for Minnesotans.