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Frontiers in Energy

Front Energ    2012, Vol. 6 Issue (4) : 379-393
Evolving perspectives on biofuels in the United States
Lisa C. DIRKS1, Gary W. DIRKS1, Jianguo WU2()
1. Global Institute of Sustainability and School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona 85287, USA; 2. Global Institute of Sustainability and School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona 85287, USA; Sino-US Center for Conservation, Energy and Sustainability Science (SUCCESS), Inner Mongolia University, Hohhot 010021, China
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Biofuels represent an important source of renewable energy and may play a crucial role in developing sustainable energy strategies for many countries and the world as a whole. The pros and cons of biofuels, however, have been debated both scientifically and politically. They remain a topic of controversy. In this paper, the evolvement of the perspectives and policies on biofuels in the United States in the past several decades was reviewed. Four different periods, that is, the period prior to 1978 (marked by the passage of the Energy Act in 1978); 1978–1989 (ending with the passage of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990); 1990–2004 (ending with the passage of the energy act of 2005); and 2005 to the present, which were characterized by defining events of major policy importance were identified. Each time period was assessed using the Ostrom institutional analysis and development (IAD) framework to show the impact of the evolving interests and influences of global players on policy choices related to biofuels in the United States. The US has a long history of supporting corn-based ethanol and more recently advanced biofuels. Changes in perspectives on biofuels from largely unrelated groups led to changes in policy and market dynamics. Until the late 1990s, most perspectives and policies tended to be aligned and significantly supportive of corn-based ethanol in the United States. In the early 2000s, it became clear that the complications associated with first generation biofuels and corn-based ethanol in particular, were too numerous and too severe to overlook. The need for better options has spurred interest in new technologies and more environmentally benign feedstocks, but, there is little prospect for biofuels playing a significant role in the near term without greater alignment among key players.

Keywords renewable energy      biofuels      energy sustainability     
Corresponding Authors: WU Jianguo,   
Issue Date: 05 December 2012
 Cite this article:   
Lisa C. DIRKS,Gary W. DIRKS,Jianguo WU. Evolving perspectives on biofuels in the United States[J]. Front Energ, 2012, 6(4): 379-393.
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StudyLiberalization scenarioGlobal welfare gains/(109 $)
AgricultureOther total
Ash &Tangermann (2006)50% cut in domestic agricultural support 50% cut in applied tariffs—All sectors, all regions261844
Anderson et al. (2005)Elimination of domestic agricultural support and trade protection in all sectors173105278
Beghin et al. (2002)Elimination of agricultural support and protection in high-income OECD countries108n/an/a
Franois et al. (2003)Elimination of tariffs, all sectors, all regions109107367*
Hertel& Keeney (2005)Elimination of domestic agricultural support and tariffs—All sectors, all regions562884
OECD (2003)Elimination of trade protection, all sectors3463174**
Tobarick (2005)Elimination of domestic agricultural support and trade protection20n/an/a
UNCTAD (2003)50% cut in applied agricultural support and tariffs, all sectors31n/an/a
USDA (2001)Elimination of domestic agricultural support and tariffs, all sectors56n/an/a
World Bank (2003)Near 100% reduction in domestic agricultural support and applied tariffs19398291
Tab.1  Estimated annual real income gain from liberalization of trade in agriculture []
Fig.1  US oil supply and consumption (millions of barrels per day) []
Fig.2  Annual average corn farm price in US (data from[])
Fig.3  Annual US production and export of corn in billions of bushels (data from
Fig.4  Crude oil price in 2010 dollars per barrel []
Fig.5  US fuel ethanol production in thousands of barrels (data from [])
YearU.S. corn prices/($·bu-1)Target price/($·bu-1)Deficiency payments/106$
Tab.2  Corn price, target price and deficiency payment for US agriculture support programs []
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