Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its final ruling on blend volumes of renewable fuels for the calendar years 2014, 2015 and 2016. The challenge for the EPA is the lack of advanced biofuels to meet obligated minimum levels. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA), mandates an increasing blend of renewable products into our domestic fuel supply. The Renewable Fuel Standards (RFS) provisions require non-food based cellulosic biofuels to be increasingly introduced into commercial gasoline. Called “2nd generation”, cellulosic ethanol, unlike 1st generation corn-ethanol, is derived from wood chips, grasses, corn cobs and other biological material. The problem is the congressionally mandated product is simply nonexistent.
Industry discussions, analytical reviews, and organizational rationalizations toss out phrases such as immature technology, steep learning curve, and of course, more federal funding. The issue is complicated, yet, not complicated. Producing 1st generation ethanol is much simpler than taking a cellulosic material and transforming it into a viable fuel source suitable for commercial use. Of course, we all knew this going into the program. Unfortunately, after pouring billions of dollars into this boondoggle we have done nothing more than successfully proven cellulosic ethanol is not a practical endeavor.
Even more so, with one of only four cellulosic ethanol production plants possibly set to shut its doors, Abengoa, a Spain-based sustainable energy development company, has filed for creditor protection one day before Thanksgiving, and less than a week before the EPA is expected to release the blend levels of renewable fuels. After the U.S. taxpayers invested billions of dollars towards the building of a massive biofuel facility, not to mention the world’s largest solar farm and wind farms, the company is teetering like a giant, green energy Jenga tower.
Abengoa is an international, mega-corporation founded in 1941. Its near certain investment losses to taxpayers’ dwarfs those of the Solyndra fiasco. Aside from perks and discounts for federal land use, employment credits and special tax incentives a quick search discloses only some of the federal dollars pumped into Abengoa and yet we still have no 2nd stage biofuels to meet program goals.
- $1.45 billion loan guarantee to Abengoa Solar, Inc. for construction and the start-up of solar energy plant in Solana, AZ — 2010
- $1.2 billion loan guarantee to Mohave Solar, LLC. for the construction & start-up of Mohave Solar Project plant in San Bernardino County, CA. — 2011
- $133.9 million loan guarantee for biofuel plant Hugoton, KS — Department of Energy – 2011
- $97 million federal grant, Hugoton, KS — Department of Energy — 2011
- $4.03 million in grants and federal contracts for 2015 alone
Beyond the amounts presented here, millions more U.S. dollars have rolled into Abengoa and its many subsidiaries. With its announcement in Spain yesterday and today being Thanksgiving, American stock values for the company have not yet reacted. The protection filing gives the company four months to find a solution before creditors can force a full bankruptcy. But, many employees of U.S.-based projects may still be unaware.
It is likely by the end of next week, Abengoa will be a household name. The failure of Abengoa, along with the failure of the Renewable Fuels Standard program, will hit jobs, stock values, the banks and the federal budget. All this, and we still have no cellulosic ethanol to meet the mandates of the Renewable Fuels Standard.