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Changing the Renewable Fuel Standard to a Renewable Material Standard: Bioethylene Case Study

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journal contribution
posted on 17.12.2015, 06:46 by I. Daniel Posen, W. Michael Griffin, H. Scott Matthews, Inês L. Azevedo
The narrow scope of the U.S. renewable fuel standard (RFS2) is a missed opportunity to spur a wider range of biomass use. This is especially relevant as RFS2 targets are being missed due to demand-side limitations for ethanol consumption. This paper examines the greenhouse gas (GHG) implications of a more flexible policy based on RFS2, which includes credits for chemical use of bioethanol (to produce bioethylene). A Monte Carlo simulation is employed to estimate the life-cycle GHG emissions of conventional low-density polyethylene (LDPE), made from natural gas derived ethane (mean: 1.8 kg CO2e/kg LDPE). The life-cycle GHG emissions from bioethanol and bio-LDPE are examined for three biomass feedstocks: U.S. corn (mean: 97g CO2e/MJ and 2.6 kg CO2e/kg LDPE), U.S. switchgrass (mean: −18g CO2e/MJ and −2.9 kg CO2e/kg LDPE), and Brazilian sugar cane (mean: 33g CO2e/MJ and −1.3 kg CO2e/kg LDPE); bioproduct and fossil-product emissions are compared. Results suggest that neither corn product (bioethanol or bio-LDPE) can meet regulatory GHG targets, while switchgrass and sugar cane ethanol and bio-LDPE likely do. For U.S. production, bioethanol achieves slightly greater GHG reductions than bio-LDPE. For imported Brazilian products, bio-LDPE achieves greater GHG reductions than bioethanol. An expanded policy that includes bio-LDPE provides added flexibility without compromising GHG targets.