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Biofuel Trek – The Next Generation

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from the USDA’s rich science and research ipsportfolio.

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Looking down from 30,000 feet above, imagine seeing: alternating checker-squares of green colored wheat and yellow-flowered camelina fields across eastern Montana; fields with 15-foot-tall energycane plants weaving among stands of longleaf pines growing in the Florida panhandle, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi; tens of thousands of acres of Oklahoma rangeland cleared from invasive eastern red cedar so cattle and bison can once again graze freely; forests across the west freed of dense, diseased, and dead trees that otherwise stand waiting to feed wildfires whipped by dry autumn winds; and even expansive ponds in Hawaii where high-tech algae grow – these scenes and others across rural America will be the places where the feedstocks come from that are used to produce the next generation of biofuels that will fill the tanks of our flex-fuel cars, trucks, tractors, trains, airliners, and even our Navy’s ships and jet fighters.

Many people equate biofuels with ethanol made from corn grain or cellulose. But what isn’t as widely known is there are other kinds of biofuels that have many of the same properties as petroleum fuels, and are not made from corn or other food crops. Just as ethanol can be made from biomass, so can advanced biofuels be made from energycane, switchgrass, and other highly productive grasses, as well as from woody biomass. Using newly custom-designed microbes that feed on cellulose and sugars in plant biomass, scientist are not only developing more efficient ways to produce ethanol, but new ways to produce energy rich liquids such as butanol and diesel as well. By adapting older technologies for producing biofuels, engineers are designing ways to heat biomass until it becomes the energy-rich gas carbon monoxide or a bio-oil similar to crude oil, and then use these to produce diesel and jet fuel. These biofuels – as well as with ones made from plant oils produced by canola, camelina, guayule, and even algae – are drop-in ready to be used in the same engines as their petroleum-based fuel counterparts.

Our nation is giving a remarkable amount of attention to shifting away from petroleum and towards a renewable fuel future. Earlier this month, the White House released a report of the Biofuels Interagency Working Group – Growing America’s Fuel – as part of a broad program to secure America’s energy future and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The report envisions creation of a new agricultural business sector driven by demand for biofuels production and distribution, a sector that does not currently exist.  As this new agricultural business sector is built, there will be unprecedented opportunities to combine the best plant biology, engineering, and computational tools to address long-term questions about biofuels, and design the best ways to sustainably produce them. And never before has there been a government-wide commitment focus on efforts to create robust public-private partnerships that invent entirely new biofuel supply chains and accelerate the establishment of a commercial advanced biofuels industry.  And to make sure that industry helps to build wealth in rural America.

So, while there are no simple solutions and it will take time to meet all of our transportation needs with renewable fuels – one thing is certain, American farms and forests and rural communities can benefit and play a significant role in seeing to it that the next generation of biofuels are ready to move us to where we need to go – for generations to come.

ARS technicians Christine Odt (left) and Kim Darling dispense rumen fluid into sample vials containing biomass materials during a test to assess the potential of these materials as feedstocks for biofuels production.

ARS technicians Christine Odt (left) and Kim Darling dispense rumen fluid into sample vials containing biomass materials during a test to assess the potential of these materials as feedstocks for biofuels production.

Jeffrey Steiner
Senior Advisor for Bioenergy
Office of the Chief Scientist
USDA

USDA Administrator Says Millions of Dollars in Federal Loan Guarantee Funds Available for Small Business Development

Judith Canales, Administrator of USDA Rural Development Business Programs, Curt Wiley, Chief of Staff, and Pandor Hadjy, Deputy Administrator, visited Atlanta recently to meet with State Directors, Business Program Directors, and Business loan specialists from 15 states and two territories in an effort to identify ways to streamline business and industry loan processing. This was one of four regional meetings around the nation.

“We know rural businesses need these funds,” said Shirley Sherrod, state director in Georgia. “We are encouraging lenders to bring us good loans and encouraging businesses in need of funds to approach lenders. We absolutely can help with the credit issues out there that many businesses are complaining about. We have capital. We want to put to work in rural Georgia.”

Business and Industry guaranteed loans are available to private businesses to create or expand businesses in qualifying rural areas of the United States. The goal is to create and save jobs in rural areas. Loans are made through local lenders with a guarantee of up to 90 percent of the loan. A substantial amount of business guarantee funding is available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, but it must be obligated for projects by the end of the current Federal  fiscal year.

“Our goal is to obligate 70 percent of Recovery Act funds by April 16,” Canales said. “Some states have exceeded that but most have not. We need to know where problems are so we can streamline processing. We must get these funds obligated before midnight on September 30, 2010.”

Represented at the Atlanta meeting were the following states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virgin Islands and Minnesota.

Curt Wiley, USDA Business Programs Chief of Staff, Georgia Rural Development State Director Shirley Sherrod (center) and Business Programs Administrator Judith Canales address a business program regional meeting in Atlanta
Curt Wiley, USDA Business Programs Chief of Staff, Georgia Rural Development State Director Shirley Sherrod (center) and Business Programs Administrator Judith Canales address a business program regional meeting in Atlanta

Georgia USDA Rural Development State Director Shirley Sherrod welcomes the group to Georgia
Georgia USDA Rural Development State Director Shirley Sherrod welcomes the group to Georgia

For more information on B&I loans, visit http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/rbs/busp/b&i_gar.htm.

In Georgia, visit http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/ga.

Written by E. J. Stapler,  Public Information Coordinator, Georgia

USDA Rural Development Hosts Housing Forum in Puerto Rico

José Otero-García, USDA Rural Development State Director, and Tammy Treviño, USDA Rural Development Rural Housing Administrator sponsored a Self-Help Housing Forum at the Sacred Heart University in San Juan and was web connected with the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez Campus and with the Catholic University, Ponce Campus on Friday March 5, 2010.

Over 151 persons joined the forum, one-hundred- seven at the University in San Juan and the rest through the web. The purpose of the forum was to create new ideas and promote the Self-Help Program in Puerto Rico. The activity was covered the Caribbean Business, Primera Hora and El Nuevo Dia Newspapers. The diversity of issues discussed was amazing and the group was composed of the best Professionals in their field, Faculty from the three Universities, Governors’ Aides, HUD’s Officials, Bank representatives, Mayors’ representatives and Communities leaders.

The information provided from the discussion will be sent to Agriculture Secretary Vilsack and President Obama for consideration.

In attendance at the Puerto Rico Self-Help Housing Forum: Seated from left, Laura Cotte, Director of the Office of External Resources of the Sacred Heart University; Arlene Zambrana, Rural Housing Program Director (Puerto Rico); Tammye Treviño, Administrator for Housing & Community Facilities Programs, USDA RD; and José Otero, RD State Director for Puerto Rico.
In attendance at the Puerto Rico Self-Help Housing Forum: Seated from left, Laura Cotte, Director of the Office of External Resources of the Sacred Heart University; Arlene Zambrana, Rural Housing Program Director (Puerto Rico); Tammye Treviño, Administrator for Housing & Community Facilities Programs, USDA RD; and José Otero, RD State Director for Puerto Rico.

Submitted by Miguel A. Ramírez, Rural Development Public Affairs Coordinator for Puerto Rico.

Deputy Secretary Merrigan Brings ‘Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food’ College Tour to Utah State University

Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan was at Utah State University yesterday, for a presentation to local leaders and students interested in food and agricultural policy. Attendees filled the auditorium to capacity with standing room only in the aisles to hear about what USDA is doing to strengthen the connection between farmers and consumers. Read more »

New Green Curriculum Unveiled for USDA Forest Service Job Corps Conservation Centers

Today I am fortunate to attend an event in Nampa, Idaho, with Congressman Walt Minnick to celebrate Secretary’s Vilsack’s announcement of a new green curriculum for the USDA Forest Service’s 28 Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers, located in 18 states around the country.  I will be able to see first-hand how USDA’s Job Corps Centers’ curriculum is preparing disadvantaged young people for careers that will be good for the environment, good for the economy, and good for them!

The USDA Forest Service has operated Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers for 45 years, and I am eager to see how the new focus on green jobs training for today’s economy can work for our students. The new green curriculum offered at the Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers provides training in growing trades such as:

Carpentry and construction: Students learn the principles of green construction, as well as how to build and retrofit buildings to achieve green building-certification.

Electrical: Students are learning to re-wire buildings and install smart meters, low-voltage thermostats, and energy-efficient appliances.

Culinary arts: Culinary students learn to incorporate fresh, organic, locally-grown produce into menus, decreasing the miles food has to travel and lowering carbon output.

Medical trades: Students learn the importance of nutrition and healthy, active lifestyles. Graduates will be part of a health care system that will help Americans live longer, healthier lives.

Natural resources: Jobs in natural resource trades will be key in forest restoration work that will ensure a healthy environment and clean, abundant water for communities throughout the nation.

Job Corps Centers provide free education and training and are located throughout the country. For eligible youth at least 16 years of age, Job Corps provides the all-around skills needed to succeed in a career and in life. To learn more visit our recruiting Website.

Check back soon for photos and stories from the event!

By Harris Sherman, Under Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment

Recovery Act, Helping Put Food on The Table, Creating Jobs and Improving Access to Medical Care

Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan visited the Utah Food Bank in Salt Lake City today, where she took a tour of the facility and helped assemble meal packets with USDA foods.  Merrigan highlighted the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), and the ARRA funding that Utah Food Bank received in 2009 and 2010.

The Recovery Act supported the nation’s food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens, by increasing funding to USDA’s Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).

TEFAP helps supplement the diets of low-income Americans by providing them with emergency food and nutrition assistance at no cost.  USDA makes food available to State governments, which distributes it to their emergency feeding network and their affiliates, like Utah Food Bank.

Later in the day, Merrigan toured the construction site of a community health center in Logan, that will be an integral part of the health care network in Utah’s Cache Valley.  When it opens this summer, the Cache Valley Community Health Center will offer primary and urgent medical care, behavioral health services, dental care and a pharmacy.

The financing for this project was made available by Recovery Act funds through USDA’s Rural Development Community Facility (CF) program in the amount of a $2,100,000 loan.

Written by Orrin Evans, USDA Office of Communications

More information about USDA’s Recovery Act efforts is available at http://www.usda.gov/recovery.  Log on to USDA’s YouTube channel to view additional ARRA project highlights, videos are available at http://www.youtube.com/usda – g/c/2A468F5AC6EBCED7