Driving green

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Articles - June 2014
Thursday, May 29, 2014

BY KIM MOORE

Transportation accounts for the second-largest source of greenhouse gases in the U.S. (28% in 2012), and the use of renewable fuels, such as biodiesel and ethanol, is booming in light of state and national programs to make transportation fuels cleaner. The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) is driving much of the growth nationally. The regulation requires the volume of renewable fuel blended into transportation fuel to grow to 36 billion gallons by 2022 from 9 billion gallons in 2008. The RFS is one reason for the large increase in the value and production of corn, a feedstock for ethanol. Corn was the top agricultural commodity in the U.S. in 2012 by sales value, reaching $67.3 billion, a 69% increase over 2007, according to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service’s 2012 Census of Agriculture. Renewable-fuel targets at the national and state level are also driving imports. U.S. biomass-based diesel imports increased to record levels in 2013. The U.S. switched to being a net importer of biomass-based diesel in 2013 from being a net exporter in 2012.

Local Efforts. The Oregon Clean Fuels Program, approved in 2009 by the state legislature, may lead to a greater use of renewable fuels in the state and could encourage Oregon farmers and businesses to develop clean fuels locally. The regulation aims to reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels in the state by 10% over 10 years. Although Oregon has only one biodiesel producer — SeQuential-Pacific Biodiesel —  it has an annual capacity to produce 17 million gallons a year, far outweighing the yearly production capacity of Washington producers.

The number of vehicles in Oregon that use alternative fuels, such as electricity, ethanol and compressed natural gas, increased more than threefold between 2003 and 2011. Alternative fuel use increased only 23% over the same period. This is because vehicles have become more fuel efficient and liquefied petroleum gas, which is included in the overall volume of alternative fuel used, declined 45% over the same timeframe.

Ethanol consumption nationally grew more than threefold between 2003 and 2013, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Oregon’s use of ethanol fuel (85% blend) increased more than fourfold between 2003 and 2011. Last year, for the first time, fuel importers and producers were required to report volumes of alternative fuel used under the Clean Fuels Program.

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