Weekly REsource for July 29, 2011
Bioenergy Policy Planks Promote Sustainability, Fairness
Earlier this week, a coalition of animal agriculture, commodity crop, general farm organization and conservation leaders issued a set of
guiding principles and policy planks aimed at reconciling the expansion of biofuel production with maintaining a profitable livestock and grain production industry, all while ensuring the environmental integrity of production lands. These "principles and planks" came together after several months of dialogue facilitated by 25x’25. Those who participated in the dialogue recognized that the expansion of biofuel production has created opportunities for grain producers, including wider markets and higher prices for feedstocks, while presenting challenges to livestock and poultry operators who purchase those same feedstocks. However, following a “yes-if” convening principle – “yes,” we can accomplish our goals, “if” certain criteria are agreed upon – the dialogue participants discussed and debated and found common ground leading to a policy framework that can maintain and enhance the viability of all U.S. agriculture sectors, while insuring the sustainability of soil, water, air and wildlife habitat. Read more…

News of Note

Vilsack Urges Extension of BCAP, Other Farm Energy Programs

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack this week announced today the creation of four additional Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) project areas in six states. But he also used the occasion to urge that all farm-based energy programs be sustained, despite facing tough odds in a budget-cutting Congress. A recent CBO report points out that all 2008 Farm Bill energy title programs lose their funding baseline upon the bill’s expiration at the end of next year. Also, the House adopted a fiscal 2012 agricultural appropriations bill that zeroed out the BCAP program and severely slashed other farm energy programs. But Vilsack said that only in the last few years have federal programs been aggressively pursued in rural America to generate bioenergy crops and a new generation of biofuels, creating new jobs and providing economic benefits to farming operations. The payback is only just beginning to show, he said. “It’s important to get these resources out into the countryside, so that [policy makers] can see the opportunities they offer to create jobs, and farmers can see the economic benefits of producing non-food bioenergy crops that can be grown, even on marginally productive lands,” Vilsack said.

Despite the spending cuts proposed in the House, Vilsack said “funding is there” for the nine BCAP projects announced to date, including some $45 million allocated for the four projects announced this week. BCAP helps farmers and forest landowners with start-up costs of planting non-food energy crops for conversion to heat, power, biobased products and advanced biofuels. The four project areas announced Tuesday set aside acres in California, Kansas, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon and Washington for the production of non-food, renewable energy crops. The secretary cited industry estimates that show the projects will create more than 3,400 jobs in the biorefinery, agriculture and supporting sectors, and provide the feedstocks to produce more than 2 million gallons of biofuels annually, when full production levels are achieved.

Two of the new BCAP project areas, which will cover some 51,000 acres in California, Montana, Washington and Oregon, will grow camelina at a significant scale. Camelina, an oilseed, is a rotation crop for wheat that can be established on marginally productive land. Biofuel from camelina has been approved as a jet fuel substitute. Another BCAP project area will encourage growth of hybrid poplar trees in Oregon, with a goal of enrolling up to 7,000 acres surrounding a biomass conversion facility in Boardman, Ore. The fourth BCAP project area is in Kansas and Oklahoma, and has been designated to grow up to 20,000 acres of switchgrass around a future biomass conversion facility planned in Hugoton, Kan. For more information on the projects, click
HERE. For more on BCAP, click HERE.

Renewable Energy and Ag Groups Oppose Anti-Ethanol Amendments
A coalition of renewable energy and agriculture organizations signed a letter sent to all members of the House of Representatives today urging opposition to amendments the groups say would weaken efforts to reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign oil and cost U.S. jobs. The letter opposes a series of amendments offered by Reps. John Sullivan (R-OK), Gary Peters (D-MI) and Michael Burgess (R-TX) that would block the legal implementation of the waiver granted by EPA raising the maximum blend of ethanol in gasoline from 10 percent (E10) up to 15 percent (E15). The letter was signed by Growth Energy, Advanced Ethanol Council, American Coalition for Ethanol, National Corn Growers Association, National Farmers Union, National Sorghum Producers and the Renewable Fuels Association.

The groups tell House members that the amendments would inhibit new innovation to provide alternatives to foreign oil. "We are looking toward cutting-edge innovation to move to new ethanol feedstocks, like plant wastes, wood chips, and switchgrass," the letter states. "The Sullivan/Peters and Burgess amendments would solidify the status quo – a 90 percent mandate of our fuel supply from oil – and would prevent American-made ethanol – a more affordable vehicle fuel than regular gasoline – from getting to consumers.” The groups also cite years of DOE successfully testing E15 blends in engines before EPA granted the waiver earlier this year.

The full text of the letter can be read by clicking
HERE.

DOE Bioenergy Research Centers Face Budget Scrutiny
DOE research consortiums that advocates say are poised to surmount many of the hurdles to commercializing cellulosic biofuel production face close scrutiny from congressional budget writers. Funded through the DOE’s Office of Science Biological and Environmental Research, the three BioEnergy Research Centers (BRCs) created in 2007 have recruited researchers from institutions across the country to meet the goal of developing biofuels that do not compete with food, are cheaper, and can be derived from a great variety of biomass. But funding for the centers is not assured beyond next year, advocates say.

The
Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), which is led by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California; the Bioenergy Science Center (BESC), based at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee; and the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Science Center (GLBRSC), run out of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, in close collaboration with Michigan State University, are all comprised of multiple institutional partners, including national labs, universities and private firms. The three research centers are working jointly to solve the chemical makeup of potential feedstocks and the processes by which they can be optimized as sustainable, renewable fuels.

While the House-passed version of the fiscal 2012 Energy and Water Development appropriations bill maintains funding for the centers (the final 2011 appropriations bill cut the $75 million budgeted in fiscal 2010 by less than one percent), the committee report accompanying the 2012 bill includes language calling on the DOE to justify funding the centers beyond their initial five-year award, which ends next year. The Appropriations Committee notes that the BioEnergy Research Centers were all established through initial funding awards of five years, which were not intended to create permanent federally funded research centers, but rather “limited-term efforts with discrete goals.” Appropriators said that only the “most successful centers” should be renewed, and any ineffective centers should be terminated as soon as possible. But advocates say all three BRCs are now starting to pay dividends to the farm energy sector, registering good “metrics” – research papers published, patents pending and technology start-ups, among others. They say the centers can meet the research targets and performance assessments required when lawmakers evaluate the research centers as they reach the end of their awards. However, the pressure to cut spending as negotiations continue over reducing the deficit, while raising the debt ceiling, still gives cause for concern for research center supporters, who say the larger budget issues could impact the viability of funding three bioenergy research centers at the same time.

Researchers Say Switch from Corn to Grass Could Raise Ethanol Output
Growing perennial grasses on the least productive farmland now used for corn ethanol production in the United States would result in higher overall corn yields, more ethanol output per acre and better groundwater quality, according to a
report by researchers from the Energy Biosciences Institute. The switch would also slash emissions of two potent greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide. The study used a computer model of plant growth and soil chemistry to compare the ecological effects of growing corn; miscanthus, a sterile hybrid grass used in bioenergy production in Western Europe; and switchgrass, which is native to the U.S. The analysis found that switching 30 percent of the least productive corn acres to miscanthus offered the most ecological advantages.

"If cellulosic feedstocks (such as miscanthus) were planted on cropland that is currently used for ethanol production in the U.S., we could achieve more ethanol (plus 82 percent) and grain for food (plus 4 percent), while reducing nitrogen leaching (minus 15 to 22 percent) and greenhouse gas emissions (minus 29 percent to 473 percent)," the researchers wrote in their report, published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. However, University of Illinois plant biology and EBI professor Evan DeLucia, who led the study with EBI feedstock analyst Sarah Davis, acknowledge that several hurdles remain before the transition from corn to cellulosic ethanol production can occur on a commercial scale. Converting the sugars in corn to ethanol is easier than releasing the energy locked in plant stems and leaves. Currently, one commercial-scale lignocellulose biorefinery is under construction in the United States (in Florida), and other facilities are in the planning stages. More research must be done to increase the efficiency of the process, the researchers said.

Headlines of Note for the Week Ending July 29, 2011
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