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USDA, Partners, Leading the Way to a Clean Energy Economy

There is an excitement at USDA with respect to bioenergy and biofuels and much is going on – a BIOFRENZY if you will – not in a sense of chaos – but rather many challenges and much to do.  The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2) provisions of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 will be implemented July 1, 2010. The RFS2 calls for 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels to be used in the US transportation fuel supply by 2022 – and the majority of this total must be advanced biofuels.

While we produce nearly enough corn-based ethanol to meet the RFS2 – we know our farmers are ready to embrace innovation and science and produce both food and advanced biofuels.  And USDA is working to help our nation meet this ambitious goal.

So USDA is looking at second and third generation fuels, and our scientists are gearing up research and development efforts to focus on cellulosic, biomass based diesel, and other advanced fuels.  They are looking at methods to improve productivity and quality of potential feedstocks such as switchgrass, energy cane, algae, willows, and fast growing poplars, as well as traditional food commodities and to do so in an environmentally sustainable manner.

USDA’s U.S. Forest Service is conducting research on sustainable forest biomass management and production systems, competitive biofuels and biopower conversion technologies and bioproducts, and information and tools for decision-making and policy analysis. Our economists and social scientists are doing research to better understand how feedstock markets and bioenergy markets interact and how they impact rural communities.

More broadly, the Obama administration has made promoting domestic production of renewable energy a national priority because it will create jobs, combat global warming, replace our dependence on foreign oil and build a stronger foundation for the 21st century economy.

To advance the production and commercialization of biofuels, the President created the Biofuels Interagency Working Group, co-chaired by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, with Secretary Steven Chu (Department of Energy) and Administrator Lisa Jackson (Environmental Protection Agency). In February 2010, this group released the report “Growing America’s Fuel” which lays out a strategy for meeting the biofuel mandate set by the RFS2.

The 2008 Farm Bill contains provisions specifying a number of programs to incentivize the renewable industry.  While some of these programs focus on second and third generation feedstocks, a number are working to make a more immediate impact by providing financial incentives such as loans, loan, guarantees, and grants to expand production of renewable energy through commercialization and deployment. USDA also has programs aimed at expanding biomass production by providing incentives to establish non-food commodities for use as renewable feedstocks and the harvesting, collection, transportation, and storage of biomass. Finally, USDA is working across the federal government – with the DOE, EPA, the Navy, and other agencies to advance the renewable energy sector, leverage resources and coordinate policies.

Here at USDA we are looking forward to a future where biofuels help power our country and create good jobs.  Secretary Vilsack is challenging USDA to work everyday help to meet the RFS2 mandate and build a biofuels economy that will strengthen America’s rural communities.  And we are responding to his call.  For more information about USDA energy programs click here.

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