Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Opinion

Don't turn back clock on promise of biofuels

Some members of the Florida Legislature are attempting to take the state in the wrong direction when it comes to biofuels and state energy security. Rep. Matt Gaetz has called ethanol "a threat to Florida" and warned that the "government has laced our gas with ethanol." Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, and Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, are sponsoring legislation, HB 4013 and SB 238, to repeal Florida's renewable fuel standard, which requires that all state gasoline contain 10 percent ethanol, commonly known as E10. It is this legislation that is the real threat to the state and the nation.

The repeal of the Florida renewable fuel standard serves as a stepping stone for those forces seeking to eliminate the national standard, which requires the country to use 36 billion gallons per year of biofuel by 2022. A repeal of the federal standard would keep the nation dependent on fossil fuels and would put Big Oil back in charge of discretionary blending of ethanol. Does Florida want to be known as the state that helped catalyze our country's reversion to a 100 percent fossil fuel economy, at a time when the state is on the cusp of an emerging advanced ethanol industry from nonfood feedstocks?

One of the best kept secrets on ethanol use is Brazil's ethanol requirement, where all ethanol is made from sugar cane. In 1975, the Brazilian government started the National Alcohol Program (Proalcool) in response to the OPEC oil embargo. From 1976 until 1992, the Brazilian government made mandatory the blend of ethanol with gasoline, fluctuating between 10 percent to 22 percent ethanol. Current legislation, enacted in 2003, requires an ethanol content between 20 percent and 25 percent.

Today in Brazil, all retail gasoline stations sell either 100 percent ethanol (E100), or E20 to E25 gasoline blends. For decades, conventional automobiles in Brazil have run on E20-E25 with no engine problems. By 2005, the Brazilian government incentivized the sale of flex-fuel vehicles, which can run on any blend of ethanol up to E100. Now Brazil has more than 12 million flex-fuel vehicles and 500,000 flex-fuel motorcycles regularly using E20 to E100 fuel.

Brazil serves as an excellent case study on why government mandates work. Today, approximately 50 percent of Brazil's motor fuel supply is ethanol as a direct result of ethanol's mandated use. Ethanol has allowed Brazil to eliminate the importation of foreign oil and become energy independent.

Mandates, when used properly, remove uncertainty, provide market stability, reduce risk and stimulate capital investment. Commercial biofuel projects are very capital intensive. The investment community needs to know that the state and nation support the development of next-generation ethanol in order for investment to occur.

Mandates also are established for the benefit of the country, which in the case of ethanol, is to create national energy security. Why has Brazil's ethanol mandate success story not been touted throughout America? A greater level of state and national awareness would serve to underline Brazil's achievements. The last thing anti-ethanol interests desire is for Brazil's successful ethanol mandate to resonate throughout our country.

The state and national renewable fuel standards are requirements that were intended to steer us in the direction of energy independence. Yet Gaetz claims that ethanol is "burdensome." If ethanol is so burdensome, why are pro-biofuel oil companies, including Shell, BP, Valero, Marathon, Murphy Oil and Sunoco investing several billion dollars in ethanol research, technology, and production in the U.S. and globally? Why does Gaetz not call these oil companies ethanol "special interest" groups like he criticizes our company as being?

In Florida, there are a half-dozen commercial, next-generation ethanol projects in development with a total investment of more than $1 billion. Our company, Highlands EnviroFuels, LLC, has developed a 30 million-gallon per year advanced biofuel ethanol plant in Highlands County. It is a $170 million facility that will process sweet sorghum and biofuel cane not linked to food use. A recent economic impact study found it will generate 65 direct jobs and 760 indirect and induced jobs, not to mention hundreds of construction jobs and the opportunity to keep Florida farms in operation.

The only subsidy for ethanol, the blender's credit, expired the end of last year. Corn ethanol has set a tremendous foundation for the ongoing transition to advanced biofuels, which include next-generation ethanol from nonfood feedstocks and drop-in biofuels such as biobutanol. The advanced biofuel industry emerging in Florida will create thousands of new jobs, clean-burning fuel, and energy security.

Maybe a trip to Brazil might change the state lawmakers' negative viewpoints on ethanol. They would see how successful the Brazilian ethanol mandate is and how beneficial it has been to the Brazilian economy.

Bradley Krohn is president of United States EnviroFuels and manager of Highlands EnviroFuels with offices based in Riverview.

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