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RFA to USDA: Ethanol Fuels Climate-Smart Agriculture, Energizes Rural Communities

April 29, 2021

Technical, USDA


In separate comment letters submitted to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Renewable Fuels Association explained how expanded ethanol production and use can support the administration’s “climate-smart” agriculture goals and encouraged USDA to use the Rural Energy Pilot Program to support research into the use of ethanol for low-carbon power generation.


“The renewable fuels industry has been a leader in the effort to transition away from fossil fuels, and fuels like ethanol have already prevented hundreds of millions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions from entering the atmosphere,” RFA President and CEO Geoff Cooper said. “These renewable fuels provide a solid foundation upon which to build a low-carbon future for our nation and world.”


In response to USDA’s request for information regarding the role for “climate-smart agriculture” and biofuels in combatting climate change, RFA offered the following recommendations, among others:


  • As directed by Congress, USDA should actively coordinate and consult with EPA on implementation of the Renewable Fuel Standard, especially with regard to the analyses and studies required as part of the process to establish RFS volumes in 2023 and beyond.
  • USDA should continue to look for opportunities to assist fuel retailers and marketers who wish to install infrastructure suitable for distributing higher biofuel blends.
  • The Department should redouble efforts to ensure its fleet of vehicles, which includes a large number of flex-fuel vehicles, is consistently fueled with low-carbon ethanol blends.
  • USDA should support technology- and feedstock-neutral policy approaches to reducing GHG emissions from the transportation sector.
  • In consultation with DOE and EPA, USDA should take a leadership role in ensuring the administration has current data, appropriate modeling tools, and an accurate understanding of the lifecycle carbon impacts of producing and using biofuels.

In separate comments to USDA responding to the Department’s request for comments on its Rural Energy Pilot Program, RFA highlighted that, with continued research and development, ethanol could also serve as an excellent low-carbon, low-cost feedstock for power generation. Natural gas turbine power plants have traditionally used diesel as a backup fuel, Cooper wrote, but ethanol can be used instead. Indeed, ethanol is already being used outside the United States as a power generation fuel. In addition to lowering GHG emissions, the use of ethanol for stationary power generation would improve air quality and reduce water consumption.


However, the use of ethanol for power generation needs further testing and development, Cooper said, making ethanol-to-electricity a strong candidate for this USDA program. “Despite the considerable potential for the use of ethanol in power generation, there is groundwork that needs to be done before adoption can take place in the U.S,” RFA’s comments concluded. “This makes ethanol-based power generation a good fit with the Rural Energy Pilot Program, as proper funding can kickstart this potentially large new market.”


Ken Colombini