Biofuels manufacturing found to be a significant source of hazardous air pollution

By Dana Drugmand

Hazardous air pollutants emitted in the manufacturing of biofuels is nearly as bad as air pollution stemming from oil refineries, and for several types of dangerous pollutants such as formaldehyde the emissions from biofuel production are far greater, a new report finds.

The assessment, which was conducted by researchers with the environmental watchdog group Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), looked at emissions generated by 275 ethanol, biodiesel and renewable diesel facilities in the United States. The researchers found that the facilities frequently violated air pollution permits while at the same time benefiting from legal exemptions and federal policy supports such as fuel-blending mandates.

As the biofuels industry continues expanding with more than 30 new facilities under construction or proposed, the industry should be seen as a threat to public health, the report warns. Stronger regulatory oversight from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is needed, according to EIP.

“Despite its green image, the biofuels industry releases a surprising amount of hazardous air pollution that puts local communities at risk – and this problem is exacerbated by EPA’s lax regulation” Courtney Bernhardt, EIP director of research, said in a statement.

According to the EIP report released on Wednesday, biofuels manufacturing generated 12.9 million pounds of hazardous air pollutants in 2022. That compares to 14.5 million pounds of hazardous air pollutants emitted by oil refineries that year, according to data from EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory.

Emissions from biofuel factories were significantly higher than oil refineries for four types of hazardous pollutants – formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, acrolein, and hexane, according to the EIP report. In 2022, biofuel facilities reported releases of nearly 7.7 million pounds of hexane, over 2.1 million pounds of acetaldehyde, 235,125 pounds of formaldehyde, and 357,564 pounds of acrolein. By comparison, oil refineries that year emitted 2.6 million pounds of hexane, 10,420 pounds of acetaldehyde, 67,774 pounds of formaldehyde, and zero pounds of acrolein.