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Posts tagged: Biofuel

Secretary Vilsack Meets Farmers, Tours Biofuel Facility and Discusses Recovery Act Business Support During Pennsylvania Visit

Friday, a beautiful spring day in Pennsylvania, it was my pleasure to welcome Secretary Vilsack and his wife Christy to Pennsylvania for a tour and rural discussion. We started the day at Middletown Biofuels for a facility tour along with Congressman Tim Holden and other local and state officials. Middletown Biofuels recently received over $17,000 from USDA for producing biodiesel fuel from soybean oil. The facility is located in the heart of Pennsylvania’s agricultural industry, providing ready access to soybean and other vegetable oil feedstocks.  We then traveled to the state capitol in Harrisburg where the Secretary announced that in Pennsylvania, the Recovery Act has guaranteed $35.6 million in business loans that are expected to save or create more than 450 jobs. In total, USDA has provided loan guarantees to 350 U.S. businesses in the last seven months that will create or save nearly 23,500 jobs. Read more »

Clean Energy Economy Forum with Secretary Vilsack

Cross-posted from the White House Blog written by Katelyn Sabochik

Today, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will host a Clean Energy Economy Forum.  The forum will bring together stakeholders from rural communities across the country to discuss bio-energy and energy opportunities for rural economic development.

You can watch the event live on starting at 2:30 PM EDT.   Each of the panels will take questions from our online audience.  You can submit questions during the event via Facebook, or submit a question in advance on Facebook or Twitter.

Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutely will kick off the event with opening remarks.  Next up, Secretary Vilsack will discuss the progress achieved on the one year anniversary of President Obama’s Biofuels Directive and moderate a panel on bio-energy with Joe Glauber, Chief Economist from USDA, Dr. Roger Beachy, Chief Scientist at USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Dr. Jose Olivares of the Bioscience Division of Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Ben Larson from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Secretary Vilsack will then moderate a second panel on energy opportunities for rural economic development with Neil Hamilton of Drake University, Dallas Tonsager, Agriculture Under Secretary for Rural Development, Ken Moss, CEO of Piedmont Bioproducts, and Dr. Dennis Beck of the University of Minnesota.

Sugarcane as a Biofuel – How Sweet It Is.

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 portfolio.

Hawaii, most people would agree, is pretty close to being paradise – and the same things that make Hawaii a great place for a vacation also make it a great place to grow things. The natural capacity of land to produce crops depends on the amount and distribution of sunlight, temperature, and precipitation.  Hawaii has a greater natural production capacity than anywhere else in the U.S.   At one time, sugarcane was planted on over 100,000 acres of Hawaii farmland, and there were nine major sugar producers in the state.  Now there is only one producer, and the sugarcane acreage has shrunk to 37,000.

One way to revive the sugar industry in Hawaii is to diversify its products so that Hawaiians earn more per acre, and have their own sustainable supply of energy.  The USDA has partnered with the University of Hawaii and the Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company (the “last man standing” in Hawaii’s sugarcane industry) to develop new ways to grow and use sugarcane as a source of biomass (the organic material used to create biofuels).

In Hawaii, sugarcane has the greatest near-term potential as a biomass feedstock for producing biofuels—it’s perennial and non-invasive, it’s already been grown in Hawaii for over a hundred years, and there is room to improve the existing yields by using newer varieties and harvesting other parts of the plant.  Sugarcane yields more energy per acre than other existing crops– it produces both cellulosic biomass (that can be converted into sugars) as well as the sugar itself. 

In January, the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Navy got together and signed an agreement to work together on developing new biofuels and renewable energy sources.  Why is the Navy interested?  The Navy has also been looking into ways to “green” its large fleet of ships stationed in Hawaii, and it costs $10.6 million per year (at a price per gallon of $2.81) to keep one fueled and ready to move.  Right now all of that fuel has to be imported, too.

It has a 270-megawatt geothermal power plant in California, a wind farm at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and solar photovoltaic panels at its facilities in San Diego.   Using biofuels in its fleet is a logical next step.   The USDA, the Department of the Navy, the University of Hawaii, and the Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar are now working together on this project.

Harvesting sugarcane in south Florida, where scientists in the ARS Sugarcane Production Research Unit are identifying research to help sustain both agriculture and natural Everglades ecosystems.
Harvesting sugarcane in south Florida, where scientists in the ARS Sugarcane Production Research Unit are identifying research to help sustain both agriculture and natural Everglades ecosystems.

An experimental ARS sugarcane field near Canal Point, Florida.
An experimental ARS sugarcane field near Canal Point, Florida.

Bar-coded tags identify experimental varieties of sugarcane.
Bar-coded tags identify experimental varieties of sugarcane.

- Ellen Buckley, Program Analyst, Natural Resources and Sustainable Agricultural Systems, USDA Agricultural Research Service

Under Secretary Tonsager Talks About USDA Renewable Energy Development Support at the Department of Energy’s Biomass Conference

Yesterday it was my privilege to address those attending the Biomass 2010 Conference, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy.  The Obama Administration is committed to fighting the effects of climate change while supporting farmers and ranchers, and promoting sustainable economic growth. My speech centered on opportunities available to farmers and ranchers as a result of biofuel production.

Our budget at USDA contains billions of dollars allocated to build on new energy and environmental opportunities.  As part of this effort, President Obama issued the “Growing America’s Fuel” report, which lays out the Administration’s strategy to advance development and commercialization of a sustainable industry which grows and produces second and third generation biofuels while continuing to support first generation producers.  Congress has mandated that the U.S. produce 36 billion gallons of biofuel annually by 2022 and we estimate that by then farmer’s incomes will increase by $13 billion annually.  The caveat is that only 15 billion gallons of the yearly quota can come from corn ethanol.

Much of the new biofuel will be produced from an array of sources including grasses, cane, sorghum, oil seeds, algae and woody biomass.  To encourage production from these new sources, we are working to mitigate risk and get capital flowing.  One model that shows great promise is the so called “New Generation Cooperative” which is financed through sale of delivery rights: a member’s right to deliver a specific amount of a commodity to the cooperative.

As I said to conference members, we must continue to support development of new technology and demonstrate to lenders the importance of transitioning to advanced biofuels. Our responsibility is clear: We will support the entrepreneurs that have the drive to compete in the marketplace and build a new energy future for America.

To read more about the Under Secretary’s views on renewable energy, see the article on page 2 of Rural Cooperatives Magazine.

Dallas Tonsager is Under Secretary for Rural Development

USDA Under Secretary for Rural Development Dallas Tonsager addresses a biomass conference sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy - Photos by Stephen Thompson, USDA
USDA Under Secretary for Rural Development Dallas Tonsager addresses a biomass conference sponsored by the                                  U.S. Department of Energy


Photos by Stephen Thompson, USDA

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.


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

Biofuels Testimony

I had a chance this morning to testify before the House Agriculture Committee about USDA’s commitment to energy security for America.  I shared the spotlight for this hearing with Under Secretary Tonsager, and together we impressed on our colleagues on the Hill the great challenges we have before us in developing a new biofuels industry, and expertise and knowledge of the many people here at USDA working on this critical issue.

Congress has laid out a significant challenge to produce 36 billion gallons of biofuels by 2022 to power our cars, trucks, jets, ships and tractors. This is a substantial goal, but one that the United States, with the help of American agriculture, can meet or beat. However, I believe to achieve this goal we will need to expand our focus on drop-in or third generation fuels. These are biofuels that can directly substitute for gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel.

Today more than 9 billion gallons of biofuels are produced annually by first-generation biofuel technologies that turn corn grain starch into ethanol, an increase from 1% of the U.S. fuel supply in 2000 to 7% in 2008.

However, Congress in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) stipulated that only 15 billion gallons of the 36 billion can be provided by ethanol produced from grain, or what is called first-generation biofuel. This means that 21 billion gallons of biofuels will need to come from sources other than corn grain. Second-generation biofuel technologies that turn crop residue such as corn stover or dedicated energy crops such as switchgrass into ethanol, and third-generation biofuel technologies that turn these feedstocks into advanced biofuels – synthetic substitutes for gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel – will have to come rapidly into commercial use.

If we are to reach our target of 36 billion gallons of biofuels by 2022, we will need to change the way we do business. The U.S. has funded thousands of worthy projects, but there has been little effective integration of these efforts across government agencies, and also there has not been a focus on partnering with public and private resources to rapidly develop biofuel supply chains capable for achieving our nation’s biofuels goals.  Significant parts of the supply chain have been ignored or have received too little attention such as sustainable feedstock production systems, solutions to lower the cost of biomass transport, and efforts to leverage America’s existing fuel distribution and utilization systems.

Switchgrass and Genetecist Ken VogelFor example, the amounts of biomass and other dedicated energy crops that are needed to produce second- and third-generation biofuels basically requires creation of an entirely new agricultural commodity sector. There are many economic and environmental uncertainties to be expected as this sector emerges.   We intend to focus on feedstock development for a range of second- and third-generation bioenergy crops.  We will continue to work in corn – where our Agricultural Research Service scientists have made important recent discoveries in genomics.  And we will build a robust research portfolio in perennial grasses (like switchgrass and miscanthus), energy cane, sorghum, and other potential dedicated feedstocks.  To ensure continued genetic improvement of bioenergy crops, NIFA and DOE Office of Science have partnered to fund six projects totaling $6.3 million for fundamental science to accelerate plant breeding programs by characterizing the genes, proteins, and molecular interactions that influence biomass production.

Under Secretary Tonsager and his team have taken a leadership role in helping to ensure that people throughout rural America can contribute to building this new capability to produce and deliver biofuels to the market.  Without their work in commercializing biofuels and developing markets to realize rural wealth, our research on biofeedstock development and cultivation won’t ensure the energy security biofuels can bring.  Promising developments in the laboratory or inventions by a farmer or an aspiring entrepreneur will simply never see the light of day. Innovation and our ability to meet the food, fuel and fiber needs of the country will come from all sorts of places and we need to incubate those technology breakthroughs as well.

We need this now more than ever, so that we can unleash the creativity and skills of people in government, in college laboratories, in the garages of aspiring entrepreneurs, and in the R&D facilities of the private sector.

– Raj Shah, Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics