Biofuels in North America

United States

Please note, additional information on research activities in the US is also included on the individual pages covering Second Generation biofuels technology (such as algal biofuels, biocrude, cellulosic ethanol, etc) and end uses (aviation, marine, etc).

IEA Task Force 39 Newsletters published in early 2014 summarised the current staus of development in the biofuels industries in Canada and the United States.

Biofuels Development in the US

Biofuels (predominantly corn ethanol) now account for around 10% of transport fuels supply in the United States. The economic output of the 'renewable fuels industry' is $184 billion. It supports over 852,000 jobs and $56 billion in wages and generates about $14.5 billion in local and state tax revenue every year [Source: National Corn Growers Association, April 2014].

See also Contribution of the Ethanol Industry to the Economy of the United States, a short report prepared by Agricultural and Biofuels Consulting LLP for Renewable Fuels Association (February 2014).

The Advanced Biofuel Payment Program managed by the USDA is making $60 million in payments to 195 producers to support and expand production of advanced biofuels refined from sources other than corn kernel starch. The US provided a cellulosic biofuels production tax credit of up to $1.01 per gallon to help get these fuels to commercial viability. This expired in 2013. However, the Budget Proposal for 2015 proposed to extend the tax credit to further boost the commercial development of cellulosic ethanol.

A number of companies are developing commercial scale production of cellulosic ethanol, including: Poet-DSM Advanced Biofuels LLC, INEOS New Planet BioEnergy, Coskata, Enerkem, Abengoa Bioenergy, Fulcrum Bioenergy Inc, Fiberight, DuPont Cellulosic Ethanol LLC, Canergy LLC, Mascoma, ZeaChem, Qteros, BlueFire Ethanol. The demonstration/poduction facilities cover a range of conversion technologies including: enzyme-based and acid-based lignocellulose hydrolysis as well as gasification followed by either catalytic synthesis of hydrocarbons, or the use of anaerobic bacteria to produce ethanol.

Thermochemical, chemical and other innovative routes to advanced biofuels are also being developed in the United States. Recent US R&D&D projects are included on the pages on butanol, biocrude and pyrolysis, BtL, BioSNG, hydrocarbons via catalysis, and biotechnology, as well as those on algal biofuels and aviation biofuels.

Following the Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO)'s successful demonstration of cost-competitive cellulosic ethanol production technologies - R&D efforts now focus on the conversion of biomass into hydrocarbon fuels and intermediates that lead to "drop-in" replacements for gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, and other petroleum-based products.  BETO recently selected several priority pathways—covering thermochemical, biochemical, and algal conversion technologies—that will guide its R&D strategy in the near term. More information about each of the pathways can be found in the individual fact sheet links below:

As in Europe, sustainability of biofuels is becoming an increasingly important topic, and is addressed by the EPA and groups such as California Low Carbon Fuel Standards Sustainability Work Group. However, in comparison to the EU, political policy and investment in the biofuel industry in North America has been less influenced by food vs fuel and iLUC debates.

On 7 February 2014 the $900m 2014 Farm Bill was launched, including funding for Biomass Crop Assistance Program, Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels, the Community Wood Energy Program, and the Rural Energy for America Program. The bill is estimated to support 1 million rural jobs in the US.

On 21 October 2013 the U.S. government announced $181 million in new loan guarantees to support the development of new commercial-scale biorefineries to produce advanced biofuels, either through development of new facilties or retrofitting of existing plants. Applications for the latest round of funding should be submitted due by 30 January 2014. This is the latest round of support provided by the Biorefinery Assistance Program, which was created through the 2008 Farm Bill and is administered by USDA Rural Development.

In September 2013, E2 published the latest edition of its report Advanced Biofuel Market Report 2013 covering production capacity in the US and Canada through 2016. This shows that 160 advanced biofuels produciton facilities are under development.

Support for advanced biofuels in the US - presentation from EBTP SPM5 February 2013

Daniel Nibarger, International Economist, Biofuels Group, Global Policy Analysis Division, USDA FAS-Office of Global Analysis (OGA)

In September 2012, EPA set a minimum volume for 2013 of 1.28 billion gallons of biomass-based diesel (under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007).

In August 2012, eight Trade Assocaitions in the US formed the Biofuels Producers Coordinating Council to jointly advocate policies in support of biofuels. The Council includes representatives of the Advanced Biofuels Association, Advanced Ethanol Council, Algal Biomass Organization, American Coalition for Ethanol, Biotechnology Industry Organization, Growth Energy, National Biodiesel Board, and Renewable Fuels Association.

The Farm Bill, passed by the US Senate in June 2012, includes significant support for biofuels. The Biomass Crop Assistance Program receives $38.6m per annum (2013 -17). However, there is no funding for algae. The Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical and Biobased Product Manufacturing Program will receive $100m in 2013 and $58m per annum in 2014-15. The Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels will receive $20m per annum (2013-17).

In June 2012 , the DOE announced $40m funding initiative for “Innovative Pilot and demonstration-scale production of advanced biofuels” for aviation and military applications.

“The intent of this FOA is to identify, evaluate, and select innovative pilot- or demonstration-scale integrated biorefineries that can produce hydrocarbon fuels that meet military specifications for JP-5 (jet fuel primarily for the Navy), JP-8 (jet fuel primarily for the Air Force), or F-76 (diesel).”

In May 2012 the US Senate voted to prohibit the use of DOD funds for the production or sole purchase of an alternative fuel if the cost exceeds the cost of traditional fossil fuels used for the same purpose. This was seen as a set-back for biofuels companies involved in developing fuels in co-operation with the US military. However, following pressure from the the Coalition of Military Biofuel Supporters an amendment was made to the National Defense Authorization Act on 29 November 2012, favouring the adoption of advanced 'drop in' biofuels.

The US military is committed to the use of advanced biofuels to support secuirty of energy supply. The Air Force aims to use biofuels to meet 50% of aviation fuel requirements on home soil by 2016, and the US Navy aims to draw 50% of energy from non-fossil sources by 2020. This is partly driven by the rising price of fossil fuel, which eats into US military budgets. A study by Environmental Entrepreneurs suggests that use of biofuels by the military could add $10 billion to the US economy and create around 15,000 jobs by 2020. Around 800,000 jobs could be created in the advanced biofuels industry by 2022 (see below).

In March 2012, $35m funding for biomass R&D was announced. DOE will provide $10m for 1-3 projects. USDA NIFA will provide $25m for 5-10 projects. Projects must address three key technical areas - feedstock development, biofuels and biobased products development and biofuels development analysis.

US-EC Research Cooperation

The EC-US task force on biotechnology research includes a Bio-based Products working group. The joint working group was established in 2004 to facilitate and coordinate collaborative (EU-US) research in molecular biology to create or improve biobased products and biofuels.

In February 2009, India and the US exchanged a memorandum for cooperation on biofuels development, covering the production, utilization, distribution and marketing of biofuels in India.

US Renewable Fuel Standard Program

The Renewable Fuel Standard Program to ensure that transportation fuel sold in the United States contains a minimum volume of renewable fuel. The original RFS program (RFS1) required 7.5 billion gallons of renewable- fuel to be blended into gasoline by 2012.

Under the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007, the RFS program was expanded in several key ways:

  • EISA expanded the RFS program to include diesel, in addition to gasoline;
  • EISA increased the volume of renewable fuel required to be blended into transportation fuel from 9 billion gallons in 2008 to 36 billion gallons by 2022;
  • EISA established new categories of renewable fuel, and set separate volume requirements for each one.
  • EISA required EPA to apply lifecycle greenhouse gas performance threshold standards to ensure that each category of renewable fuel emits fewer greenhouse gases than the petroleum fuel it replaces.

The EPA indicates that E10 is now the norm for ethanol/gasoline blends in the US, there will be a mix of E10 and E15 by 2017 and by 2030 E15 will be the standard [Ref: Tier 3 Vehicle Emission and Fuel Standards Program].

ARPA-E PETRO Program - PLants Engineered to Replace Oil

The 10 projects that comprise ARPA-E’s PETRO program, short for “Plants Engineered to Replace Oil,” aim to develop non-food crops that directly produce transportation fuel. These crops can help supply the transportation sector with agriculturally derived fuels that are cost-competitive with petroleum and do not affect U.S. food supply. PETRO aims to redirect the processes for energy and carbon dioxide (CO2) capture in plants toward fuel production.

See also:

US Government Biomass Energy information

National Renewable Energy laboratory

Forest Service Research & Development

Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture

The National Biodiesel Board




The information on biofuels in Canada is currently being updated.

In Canada, the NextGen Biofuels Fund™, aimed to bring biodiesel and cellulosic etahnol projects to market sooner by helping them bridge the high CAPEX (capital expenditure) gap to scale-up their technology solution to a large, demonstration-scale plant. 

A Shell service station in Canada was the first in the world to sell Gasoline blended with 10% Cellulosic Ethanol from Wheat Straw. For one month starting June 10 2009, the regular gasoline purchased at a Shell service station in Ottawa, Ontario contained 10% cellulosic ethanol. The biofuel was produced locally from non-food raw materials at Iogen Energy Corporation’s demonstration plant, using advanced conversion processes. Iogen and Shell are partners in the plant, which now produces 40,000 litres of fuel per month.

Further information on development of Cellulosic ethanol in Canada

Canada is also a world leader in pyrolysis of lignocellulosic materials.