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Undersecretary Promotes “All of the Above” Renewable Energy Strategy

Rural America has great potential in helping the U.S. meet the future energy demand by deploying alternative energy and energy efficiency sources and practices, so says U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Under Secretary for Rural Development, Dallas Tonsager, who visited the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland Wash., with other members of a technical advisory committee exploring ways to further the use and development of advanced bio-fuels.

Tonsager co-chairs the Biomass Research and Development Board, which was created by the Biomass Research and Development Act of 2000.  USDA and the Department of Energy implement the Biomass Research and Development Initiative, which consists of grants made available through the 2008 Energy Act and other programs.

PNNL, a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) government research laboratory, hosted the meeting in Washington State May 21-23. The Technical Advisory Committee, or “TAC” for short, is composed of scientists and commercial industry experts from around the United States as an independent body that provides input to agencies regarding the technical focus and direction of the Biomass Research and Development Initiative.

“I think for U.S. Agriculture and for rural America, we have to continue to add dimensions to our agricultural sector, and so we are looking for the ways that are being learned in the Pacific Northwest agricultural production, practices and products and what might really work well for creating green energy and green products here,” Tonsager said, adding that the TAC came to see what is being done in the Pacific Northwest related to bio-fuels and bio mass production. “This is an exploration we are talking to the people in this region, experts in this region trying to understand the various commodities produced here and what might economically work best.”

Interest in the potential of bio-fuels production in the Pacific Northwest continues to grow as commercial production continues to become more economically viable. In 2011, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the award of grants to the University of Washington (UW) and Washington State University (WSU) to research the development of a renewable energy market in bio-fuels in the Pacific Northwest that could result in generating rural jobs while decreasing America’s dependence on foreign oil.

UW received $40 million to focus on using sustainably grown woody energy crops to produce bio-gasoline and renewable aviation fuel; while WSU received $40 million to focus on feedstock development, sustainable forest production and establishing new methods to identify the most promising plant lines for bio-fuel conversion.

And earlier this year, ZeaChem, Inc. received a $235 million loan guarantee from USDA to finance construction of a biofuel refinery in Boardman, Oregon, near the Washington border, that is expected to produce up to 25 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol annually.

Under Secretary for Rural Development, Dallas Tonsager recently visited the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., with other members of a technical advisory committee exploring ways to further the use and development of advanced bio-fuels.   Photo by Phil Eggman, USDA

Under Secretary for Rural Development, Dallas Tonsager recently visited the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., with other members of a technical advisory committee exploring ways to further the use and development of advanced bio-fuels. Photo by Phil Eggman, USDA

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