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More States Added to Biomass Production Program; 3,400 New Jobs Expected

Switchgrass is a potentially important source of biomass (Photo Courtesy of NRCS)

Switchgrass is a potentially important source of biomass (Photo Courtesy of NRCS)

USDA recently named additional states that will participate in the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, designed to expand the availability of non-food crops to be used for liquid biofuels.

The projects — which will be implemented in California, Kansas, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon and Washington — will create more than 3,400 jobs (estimated) and, when fully operational, produce more than two million gallons of biofuels annually.

According to Secretary Vilsack, the Obama Administration is committed to providing financial opportunities to rural communities, farmers and  ranchers to produce biomass which will be converted to renewable fuels and increase America’s energy independence.  In all, about 51,000 acres are targeted to be enrolled in California, Montana, Washington and Oregon, and will grow camelina, an oilseed. Camelina is a rotation crop for wheat that can be established on marginally productive land. It is an ideal jet fuel substitute.

Another 7,000 acres in Oregon will be used for the growth of hybrid poplar trees. This project is part of a series of measures that comprise USDA’s Wood-to-Energy initiative and seeks to build a forest restoration economy by integrating energy feedstock within the larger forest products sector to sustain rural jobs.

Project areas in Kansas and Oklahoma will aim to grow 20,000 acres of switchgrass. Earlier this year, USDA announced five BCAP project areas where energy crops will be grown on up to 250,000 acres in 66 counties in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Ohio. These crops, such as switchgrass and giant miscanthus, are the first-ever national investments in expanding U.S. biomass resources to meet domestic energy security.

USDA has allocated funds for contracts that range up to 15 years for producers who volunteer to enroll. Producers who enter into BCAP contracts are eligible for reimbursements of up to 75 percent of the establishment costs of the perennial energy crop and up to five years of annual maintenance payments for herbaceous crops. Reimbursement for woody crops is up to 15 years.

To find out how you can enroll, contact any FSA office or click here.

ARS scientists are studying the potential of camelina as a source of biofuel for jets. Photo courtesy of Robert Evans, ARS.

ARS scientists are studying the potential of camelina as a source of biofuel for jets. Photo courtesy of Robert Evans, ARS.

One Response to “More States Added to Biomass Production Program; 3,400 New Jobs Expected”

  1. Nick5000 says:

    2nd generation biofuels such as wood and switchgrass are not currently viable feedstocks for the production of ethanol. The primary reason for this is that these feedstocks do not produce ethanol efficiently. According to a 2005 study, conducted by professor David Pinentel from Cornell University and professor Tad Patzek from the University of California Berkeley, first and second generation biofuels resulted in a net energy loss, which means that more energy was used in the creation of the biofuels than can be obtained by combusting the biofuels. Wood and switchgrass derived biofuels fared even worse than corn-based ethanol in the study; they found that cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass results in a net energy loss of 50%, wood biomass a 57% loss. By comparison, corn-based ethanol production results in a net energy loss of 29%. The net energy loss is very important, because a good deal of conventional transportation fuels are used in the production of biofuels and if the net energy output is negative, the conventional fuels would be better used as a direct source of fuel.
    More funding should be made available for the development and production of 3rd generation biofuels, which are derived from microalgae, instead of 2nd generation development/production. Algae has many advantages over other biofuel feedstocks. It can be harvested many times year-round, while vascular plants, such as corn have a defined growing period and can only be harvested once per year. Algae requires less water than terrestrial crops. Algae can also be cultivated in brackish water. Algae can also be cultivated on non-arable land, such as deserts. The nutrients required for algae growth can be easily obtained from wastewater. Algae cultivation does not require herbicide or pesticide use. Algae requires much less land use than other biofuel feedstocks, approximately 15 to 35 times more ethanol production capacity per unit of area than corn. The starch extraction process for algae requires less energy than other feedstocks. Because the energy inputs for algae are less than other feedstocks, the net energy output of algae will be much greater.

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