RFS Report Misses Some Developments

Assumptions and outdated data calls into question validity of the report.

Published on: Oct 7, 2011

A report released this week assessing the economic and environmental impacts of the Renewable Fuels Standard has come under fire. The report, issued by the National Research Council, raised many questions about the validity of the report's assumptions and the currency of its data. Dr. Virginia Dale is the director of the Center for BioEnergy Sustainability at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory and one of 16 experts on the NRC committee that crafted the report. Dale says model projections are not to be believed.

Dale points out that with any scientific process, it is difficult to reach a conclusion when the data are inadequate, some models are applied at scales inappropriate to the situation, or key processes are not included in the theories. All of these limitations, she says, are applicable to current analyses of the effects of biofuels. The environmental researcher says that while models can enhance understanding, they must be validated by empirical information. And so far the empirical evidence provides little, if any, support for modeled projections of land-use change.

Dale agrees with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack's assessment that "the report is not based on the most current information." She cites as an example the failure of the report to consider the U.S. Billion Ton Update study, which details biomass feedstock potential nationwide, pointing out that, instead, outdated estimates of biomass production were used. She also says the report does not include current information from bioenergy technology industries. Vilsack struck on a similar theme Tuesday when he said the report does not acknowledge the efforts being made in support of technological advances that can accelerate the development of the next generation of biofuels.

The 25x'25 Alliance concurs with Dr. Dale's assertion that biofuels represent a complicated issue, but that today's biofuel ventures must be willing to take the risks inherent in a new industry, despite many uncertainties and constraints. According to Dale, the eventual success of private enterprises for feedstock production, transport, conversion, delivery and use of biofuels depends on  contextual socioeconomic and environmental conditions.