New Energy Technologies

Renewable Fuel Standard Mandate for Cellulosic Biofuels

March 1, 2012, 9:58 am


This summary reviews the competing cellulosic biofuel allotment between the Congressional Energy Independence and Security Act and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and identifies questions which may arise in the 112th Congress energy legislation debates on this issue of alternative fuel sources and technologies. 

Renewable Fuel Standard Mandate for Cellulosic Biofuels

The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) was expanded under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA; P.L. 110-140) in an effort to reduce dependence on foreign oil, promote biofuel use, and stabilize transportation fuel prices, among other goals. Over a 15-year period, the RFS seeks to establish a market for biofuels in the transportation sector by requiring that increasing amounts of biofuels—36 billion gallons by 2022—be blended into transportation fuel. The mandate is to be accomplished with an assortment of advanced biofuels, including cellulosic biofuels—fuels produced from cellulosic materials including grasses, trees, and agricultural and municipal wastes. However, analysis suggested the United States did not have sufficient cellulosic biofuel production capacity to meet the 2010 RFS mandate instituted by Congress in EISA, and this continues for the 2011 mandate.

The cellulosic biofuel allotment in the mandate, as established by Congress in EISA, was 100 million gallons due in 2010, increasing to 16 billion gallons by 2022. However, in March 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set a new, lower RFS cellulosic biofuel mandate of 6.5 million gallons for 2010. EISA set the 2011 cellulosic biofuel mandate at 250 million gallons, but again EPA lowered the mandate only requiring 6.6 million gallons, more than 97% less than scheduled by EISA. The cellulosic biofuel community may fare better at achieving the lower mandate set by EPA if certain obstacles are overcome. No commercial-scale cellulosic biofuel plants are currently operating. Roadblocks include unknown levels of feedstock supply, expensive conversion technology that has not yet been applied commercially, and insufficient financial support from private investors and the federal government.

Some financial support from the Departments of Energy and Agriculture is available to expedite cellulosic biofuel production. For example, the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), created under the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (2008 farm bill; P.L. 110-246), is to support establishment and production of crops for conversion to bioenergy in selected areas, and to assist agricultural and forest land owners and operators with collection, harvest, storage, and transportation of eligible material for use in a biomass conversion facility. Also, the Department of Energy’s Loan Guarantee Program, created under the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct05, P.L. 109-58), distributes loan guarantees to eligible commercial-scale renewable energy systems, including cellulosic biofuel plants, although criticisms have been raised that the program has been slow to get started.

Many questions regarding cellulosic biofuels and the RFS may arise as the 112th Congress engages in energy legislation debates. Can and will the 2010, 2011, and future RFS mandates for cellulosic biofuels be met? What impact will the continued lowering of the cellulosic ethanol mandate have on investment in celluosic ethanol production? What are the next steps the 112th Congress could take to influence cellulosic biofuel production? Bills introduced in the 111th Congress might have influenced cellulosic biofuel production by providing additional financial, infrastructure, and environmental support (H.R. 2454, S. 1462, H.R. 2283, and S. 943). This report, in a question and answer format, discusses some of the concerns facing the cellulosic biofuel community, including feedstock supply estimates, an expected time frame for the first commercial cellulosic biofuel projects, and potential legislative options to address cellulosic biofuel production uncertainty for the RFS.

Editor's Note

This summary was taken from the Congressional Research Service Report R41106 by Kelsi Bracmort


Attached Files



Service, C. (2012). Renewable Fuel Standard Mandate for Cellulosic Biofuels. Retrieved from