Several media outlets ignored the opening of the country's largest advanced biofuel plant -- which produces a fuel with a far lesser climate impact than gasoline that can help reduce our dependence on oil -- even though they previously claimed that such a biofuel “does not exist.”
The New York Times brazenly claimed in 2012 that cellulosic ethanol, a type of fuel made from agricultural waste such as corn stalks, “does not exist” -- and many other news outlets also adopted this misleading framing. Industry journal Platts published a blog titled: “Puzzling over the US mandate for a fuel that doesn't exist yet,” later clarifying that the fuel simply did not exist “in the US at commercial volumes” at the time. The Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote that “Congress subsidized a product that didn't exist” and “is punishing oil companies for not buying the product that doesn't exist.” FoxNews.com called the fuel “merely hypothetical.” National Review Online contributing editor Deroy Murdock stated “EPA might as well mandate that Exxon hire leprechauns.”
However, since a new facility started producing cellulosic ethanol on a commercial-scale on September 3, these outlets have remained silent.* Poet-DSM Advanced Biofuels opened the biggest cellulosic ethanol facility in the country for production, which will “convert 570 million pounds of crop waste into 25 million gallons of ethanol each year.” The Iowa facility is being heralded as “a major step in the shift from the fossil fuel age to a biofuels revolution.”
Cellulosic ethanol and other “advanced biofuels” are included in the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which requires oil companies to mix fuel made from renewable sources into their product. This standard was part of a bill that passed during the Bush Administration with bipartisan support -- a fact that several right-wing news outlets failed to mention in their coverage.
A lifecycle analysis from Argonne National Laboratory estimated that the type of fuel produced at the new Poet-DSM facility emits up to 96 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than conventional gasoline. The Poet-DSM facility is the first of three cellulosic ethanol plants scheduled to start production this year, which will together produce an estimated 17 million gallons per year. Jeremy Martin, an expert from the Union of Concerned Scientists, called the plant opening “an important milestone on the road to clean transportation.” Martin added: “With efficient vehicles and clean fuels like cellulosic biofuel we can cut our projected oil use in half in 20 years.”
*Based on a search of publicly available content from September 1 - September 7.
Photo at top of cellulosic biofuel crop from Flickr user KBS with a Creative Commons license.
UPDATE (9/8/14): Platts emailed Media Matters to state that they covered the Poet-DSM opening behind their paywall.