U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) has announced his plans to introduce bipartisan legislation in the U.S. Senate that would help level the playing field for advanced biofuels like algae by reforming the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) to make it more technology neutral. Southern New Mexico has been at the forefront of developing clean energy and renewable biofuel technology.
Udall made the announcement after touring New Mexico State University’s Energy Research Laboratory, where he discussed the state’s growing biofuels industry with NMSU President Barbara Couture and researchers from the Algal Bioenergy Program, the College of Agricultural Consumer and Environmental Sciences, and the College of Business. NMSU is part of a consortium with Los Alamos National Laboratory and 16 other entities that have received a $49 million grant from the Department of Energy to study the commercialization of algae-based fuel.
The current RFS includes a traditional ethanol standard of up to 15 billion gallons by 2015 that comes mostly from corn feedstock and a separate advanced biofuels standard, known as RFS2. Currently, the large majority of the advanced biofuel standard is limited to only cellulosic biofuels – creating an uneven playing field for other advanced biofuels like algae. The senators’ bill would remedy that situation by removing the cellulosic biofuel carve-out, thus creating a technology neutral category that includes all advanced biofuels, including cellulosic, algae, and other technologies, at the same 21 billion gallon standard by 2022.
“Congress shouldn’t be in the business of picking winners and losers when it comes to the use of emerging technologies,” Udall said. “This bill simply puts all advanced biofuels on a level playing field and lets the market determine which emerging technologies prove most useful.”
A survey conducted by the Algal Biomass Organization of companies in the algae biofuel industry indicated that creating legislative parity between algae and other advanced biofuels could create over 200,000 jobs by 2022, compared to over 50,000 without such legislative parity.
Algae biofuels are considered non-cellulose in that they produce oil, not cellulose or sugar, from photosynthesis. That oil can be extracted and refined into a crude oil-like product that is refined using existing infrastructure into fuel that is indistinguishable from regular gasoline. Unlike ethanols, algae can also be converted into high energy density fuels like diesel or jet fuel, offering broader promise for reducing reliance on imported oil.
A longtime proponent of a “Do It All” energy approach, Udall is a staunch advocate of a national energy policy that includes all of the tools in our energy toolbox – including energy efficiency, solar, wind, biofuels, natural gas, enhanced oil recovery, safe nuclear power and clean coal technologies.
“The West and my home state of New Mexico are rich in renewable energy opportunities like wind and solar and advanced biofuels. This legislation is an important step in making sure we’re taking full advantage of all the energy technologies our country has to offer,” Udall said.