U.S. Department of Agriculture

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Information about biofuels and bioenergy and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

News

2011

  • More Job-Creating Biomass Crop Projects Announced Recently, 7 October 2011 by EESI: "Over the summer, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the establishment of nine new biomass production project areas across the U.S. as part of the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP)."
    • "However, the agency is rapidly running out of funds for new project areas, and the House has zeroed out funding for the program for FY12."
    • "Developing next generation biofuels and bioenergy will help create jobs, reduce U.S. dependence on petroleum and other fossil fuels, help keep more of the nation’s energy dollars invested here at home, and help rural America grow its way out of recession."
    • "Commercial scale bioenergy production requires bringing together biomass producers and bioenergy producers within a close radius so as to minimize the cost of transporting large volumes of bulky biomass."
    • "A bioenergy plant will not be built if there is not an adequate supply of biomass nearby, but biomass producers will not begin planting biomass crops or harvesting biomass residues until they are assured that a nearby bioenergy plant will buy their biomass."[1]
  • Biofuels can be commercialized rapidly for military, says industry group, 4 October 2011 by BrighterEnergy.org: "Advanced biofuels can be commercialized rapidly for military use, on military timelines, with adequate support and coordination of efforts by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Defense and Energy."
    • "That’s according to the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), which yesterday submitted comments to the Air Force’s Request for Information on the commercial status and market for advanced drop-in biofuels."
    • "Brent Erickson, executive vice president of BIO’s Industrial & Environmental Section, stated: 'The U.S. military and the nation as a whole face a significant national security threat from U.S. dependence on foreign sources of energy and ongoing price volatility.'"
    • "'Military use of advanced biofuels could in turn validate emerging technologies and unlock private investment in future advanced biofuels production for civilian markets.'"[2]
  • U.S. gives $136 million for advanced biofuels research, 28 September 2011 by Reuters: "U.S. university researchers will get $136 million to develop advanced biofuels, including to develop jet fuel, by using tall grasses, woody plants and energy cane, the U.S. government said on Wednesday."
    • "Nearly two-thirds of the money will go toward aviation biofuels projects in the Pacific Northwest, including efforts to develop a regional source of bio-jet fuel for Seattle-Tacoma International Airport."
    • "Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who announced the awards in Seattle, said the project will help promote growth in rural America."
    • "The projects would focus on using woody crops to produce bio-gasoline and renewable aviation fuel, convert idle sawmills into bioenergy development centers and develop new feedstocks and techniques for sustainable forest production to create a regional source of renewable aviation fuel, and use switchgrass and woody biomass to produce low-cost sugars for conversion to butanol as well as use forest and mill residues and dedicated energy crops to produce biodiesel fuel, heat and power."[3]
  • Livestock producers face ethanol makers over cost of corn, 15 September 2011 by USA Today: "The flooding and record heat that have combined to shrink this year's corn crop are feeding new calls from livestock producers to weaken the government's ethanol mandates."
    • "Producers told the House Agriculture Committee on Wednesday that tightening grain supplies are driving up feed costs further and threatening to push many poultry farms and others out of business."
    • "More than 20 percent of the chicken industry, as measured by production, has been sold to foreign-owned companies because of bankruptcies in the U.S. industry over the last three years, said Ted Seger, president of Farbest Foods Inc."
    • "The Agriculture Department this week estimated that farmers will harvest 12.5 billion bushels of corn this year, the third-largest crop on record, but that was 3 percent less than the USDA had forecast a month earlier."
    • "About one-third of the corn that is sold for ethanol production winds up as a byproduct known as distillers grains that can substitute for corn in livestock feed, but poultry and hog producers say they can use the product only in small amounts."[4]
  • White House launches biofuels initiative linked to jobs creation, 15 September 2011 by Air Transport World: "The US Departments of Agriculture and Energy and the Navy will invest up to $510 million over the next three years in partnership with the private sector to produce advanced drop-in aviation and marine biofuels to power commercial and military transportation."
    • "The biofuels initiative is being steered by the White House Biofuels Interagency Work Group and Rural Council, organizations that aim to enable greater cross-agency collaboration to strengthen rural America."
    • "The White House said there was a lack of manufacturing capability for next-generation drop-in biofuels in the US. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus have developed a plan to jointly construct or retrofit several drop-in biofuel plants and refineries."
    • "The White House said the joint plan calls for the three departments to invest a total of up to $510 million, requiring a substantial cost share from private industry of at least a one to one match."[5]
  • Back on track: Why BCAP is worth saving, 1 July 2011 by Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy: "Since the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) was rolled out in 2009, there has been an awful lot that’s gone wrong. But in the last few months, a lot has gone right: conservation plans under the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) are now required, and new funding will now be only awarded to support crop establishment."
    • "BCAP was created in the 2008 Farm Bill to help farmers produce sustainably grown cellulose crops for cleaner biofuels, power, heat and biomaterials."
    • "The USDA Farm Service Agency blundered early on when they hastily kicked off an ill-advised matching payment element for existing biomass delivered to energy facilities. The payments were not targeted to new crops at all, but instead disrupted well-established markets for forestry residues, distorting prices and supplies."
    • "In what was widely interpreted as a warning, Congress cut BCAP’s funding for 2011 by $134 million, and barely dodged an amendment to outright kill the program."
    • "Fortunately, USDA stopped approving energy facilities for BCAP payments this spring, choosing to focus instead on crop establishment."[6]
  • Senate Votes to End Ethanol Blenders Tax Credit, 16 June 2011 by AgWired: "An amendment to end the ethanol blenders tax credit (VEETC) passed the Senate today by 73 to 27, a vote that some agricultural groups applaud while some denounce, while the ethanol industry says it is unlikely to matter."
    • "The Renewable Fuels Association calls the vote disappointing but 'ultimately inconsequential' since the underlying economic development bill to which this amendment is attached is 'unlikely to make it to the president’s desk.'"
    • "U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says the Obama administration opposes an abrupt end to the VEETC. 'We need reforms and a smarter biofuels program, but simply cutting off support for the industry isn’t the right approach. Therefore, we oppose a straight repeal of the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC) and efforts to block biofuels infrastructure programs.'"[7]
  • Battle Between Ethanol and Pork May Cause Corn Shortage, 8 June 2011 by CNBC.com: "A large international turnout is expected here this week at the World Pork Expo in Iowa. Hot topics include pushing for free trade with Panama, Colombia, and especially South Korea."
    • "The hottest topic, however, is the price of corn. Thursday, the USDA updates its outlook on this year's corn crop, the first update since flooding delayed planting."
    • "Which leads to the big beef between hogs and ethanol. Both are competing for corn, and after September, there may not be enough to go around."
    • "In its defense, the ethanol industry highlights the fact that after it extracts what it needs from corn, it sells the residual product back to the livestock industry as a nutritious, concentrated feed (though it contains less energy). This residual is called Dried Distillers Grains, or DDG."
    • "Hog farmers and meat packers are discovering that pigs don't process the DDGs the same way, and too much of the stuff in the diet affects the meat."
    • "So now hog farmers have one more reason to complain about ethanol."[8]
  • USDA report predicts record biofuel crop this year, 12 May 2011 by BrighterEnergy.org: "According to survey data gathered from farmers and historical yield trends, USDA is predicting 92.2 million acres of corn to be planted, 85.1 million harvested acres, and an average yield of 158.7 bushels per acre. This would produce a total crop of 13.5 billion bushels, an all-time record."
    • "Additionally, USDA increased its estimate for carry-out stocks of corn for 2010/11 to 730 million bushels, based on slightly lower export demand. As for the 2011/2012 marketing year (Sept. 1 – Aug. 31), USDA is anticipating total corn use of 13.355 billion bushels."
    • "Specifically for ethanol, USDA is projecting demand at 5.05 billion bushels, which translates to more than 14 billion gallons of ethanol using industry average ethanol yields."
    • "After all demands are met, USDA expects 2011/12 carry-out to be 900 million bushels, up nearly 25% from the current marketing year."
    • "In separate government data also released today, ethanol exports set another record in March, as 84 million gallons of product (denatured and undenatured, non-beverage) were shipped to destinations around the world."[9]
  • USDA Announces Project to Encourage Development of Next-Generation Biofuels, 5 May 2011 press release by USDA Farm Service: "Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today the establishment of the first Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) Project Area to promote the production of dedicated feedstocks for bioenergy. This project will help spur the development of next-generation biofuels and is part of Obama Administration efforts to protect Americans from rising gas prices by breaking the nation’s dependence on foreign oil."
    • "Comprising 39 contiguous counties in Missouri and Kansas, the first BCAP Project Area proposes the enrollment of up to 50,000 acres for establishing a dedicated energy crop of native grasses and herbaceous plants (forbs) for energy purposes. Producers in the area will plant mixes of perennial native plants, such as switchgrass, for the manufacture of biomass pellet fuels and other biomass products to be used for power and heat generation. The proposed crops also will provide long term resource conserving vegetative cover. The project is a joint effort between the agriculture producers of Show Me Energy Cooperative of Centerview, Mo., and USDA to spur the expansion of domestically produced biomass feedstocks in rural America for renewable energy."
    • "BCAP, created in the 2008 Farm Bill, is a primary component of the strategy to reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil, improve domestic energy security, reduce pollution, and spur rural economic development and job creation. BCAP provides incentives to interested farmers, ranchers and forest landowners for the establishment and cultivation of biomass for heat, power, bio-based products and biofuels."[10]
  • USDA gets it right by changing corn for ethanol category, 21 April 2011 by Delta Farm Press: "USDA has changed a reporting category in its monthly supply and demand estimates to better clarify how corn is being used for ethanol."
    • "When USDA first started reporting corn used for ethanol in May 2004, it listed the gross corn bushels as simply 'ethanol for fuel,' giving the impression that 100 percent of each bushel is used for fuel ethanol."
    • "U.S. corn farmers produced 12.5 billion bushels of corn in 2010-11 and USDA projects that 5 billion bushels will be used by the ethanol industry. Without the clarification, a layman would figure that 40 percent of the U.S. crop went into ethanol production."
    • "But the real story is that one-third of every bushel used in the ethanol process returns to the animal feed market in the form of distillers grains, corn gluten feed or corn gluten meal. When you consider this, corn used for ethanol drops to 23 percent of U.S. corn production, a big difference."
    • "In USDA’s April 8 World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates, USDA changed the category from 'ethanol for fuel' to 'ethanol and byproducts,' and included a footnote explaining that corn used for ethanol also produces distillers grains, corn gluten feed, corn gluten meal and corn oil."[11]
  • USDA revises plan to boost biofuel investment, 19 April 2011 by Denver Post: "The U.S. Department of Agriculture is embarking on a revised biorefinery-finance program that it hopes will boost the amount of cellulosic-biofuel production in the country."
    • "The USDA seeks to make the advanced-biofuels industry more attractive to private investors, who so far have been averse about pledging money to what they view as untested technology. The lack of investment forced the Environmental Protection Agency to waive its plan to have 250 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol blended into the fuel supply by 2011 and seriously jeopardizes its goal of 1 billion gallons by 2013."
    • "The updated guidelines slash many of the fees entrepreneurs had to pay just to apply to the program and also allows banks to securitize a larger portion of the loan debt and sell it in the bond market."[12]
  • U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Energy Announce Funding for Biomass Research and Development Initiative, 15 April 2011 press release by U.S. Department of Energy: "To support President Obama's goal of reducing America's oil imports by one-third by 2025, the U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Energy (DOE) today jointly announced up to $30 million over three to four years that will support research and development in advanced biofuels, bioenergy and high-value biobased products. The projects funded through the Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI) will help create a diverse group of economically and environmentally sustainable sources of renewable biomass and increase the availability of alternative renewable fuels and biobased products. Advanced biofuels produced from these projects are expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a minimum of 50 percent compared to fossil fuels and will play an important role in diversifying America's energy portfolio."
    • "Subject to annual appropriations, USDA plans to invest up to $25 million with DOE contributing up to $5 million for this year's Biomass Research and Development Initiative. This funding is expected to support five to ten projects over three to four years. A description of the solicitation, eligibility requirements, and application instructions can be found on the FedConnect website, Fedconnect.net and the Grants.gov website under Reference Number DE-FOA-0000510. Pre-applications are due on May 31, 2011 and must be submitted electronically. It is anticipated that applicants who are encouraged to submit full applications will be notified by August 3, 2011."[13]
  • USDA aims to expand E85 market, 9 April 2011 by Des Moines Register: "In a bid to increase the market for ethanol, the Obama administration is offering aid to rural gas stations to install new tanks and pumps."
    • "Under rules that the Agriculture Department will issue soon, stations could get grants and loan guarantees to cover up to 75 percent of the cost of installing equipment needed to dispense E85, a blend of 85 percent ethanol and gasoline, and other mixtures."
    • "The goal is to get the ethanol pumps in 10,000 more stations in five years. About 2,300 stations nationwide are now equipped to sell E85, a blend of 85 percent ethanol."
    • "The ethanol industry is fast running out of room to increase its sales because most conventional gasoline now contains 10 percent ethanol, which has long been the legal limit for the additive. The Environmental Protection Agency recently agreed to raise the ethanol cap to 15 percent for 2001 and newer cars and trucks, but it's not clear how many stations will sell a blend that won't be legal for all of their customers to buy."[14]
  • Experts: Farmers not to blame for high food prices, 7 April 2011 by Sify Finance: "Corn prices rose even higher last week following an announcement that U.S. farmers are planting the second largest corn crop since 1944, but it won't be enough to meet growing worldwide demand. Corn has traded at more than $7 a bushel this month, more than double last summer's $3.50, and many traders say it could pass the record $7.65 set in 2008."
    • "But experts say those prices have little to do with what shoppers pay at the grocery store, and farmers and ethanol producers aren't responsible for recent increases in the cost of groceries."
    • "'Ethanol has increased demand for corn, but the lion's share of the responsibility for rising food prices has to do with volatile energy prices,' Matt Hartwig, a spokesman for the Renewable Fuels Association, said. "It is the price of energy, oil, gas, diesel, that makes what you buy at the store more expensive."
    • "The U.S. Department of Agriculture report released last month that broke down where each dollar spent on groceries goes. Farmers received an average of 11.6 cents per dollar in 2008, the latest year data was available. The rest of the money goes to processing, packaging, transportation, retail trade and food service, which includes any place that prepares meals, snacks and beverages for immediate consumption including deli counters and in-store salad bars. The share going to each category has declined some, except for food service which now gets 33.7 cents of every dollar spent, the USDA reported."[15]
  • China biofuel policy may be in conflict with food security objectives, 28 March 2011 by Platts.com: "The United States Department of Agriculture says China's food security objectives may clash with its energy independence and environmental objectives, limiting the development of biofuels, according to the latest publication by the US International Trade Commission."
    • "Like wheat, the Chinese government views corn as important for national food security and provides support for domestic corn growers by guaranteeing prices for domestic corn from state-owned enterprises and by providing subsidized seed, while controlling exports to ensure that corn is available for domestic use. But strong demand, coupled with poor production in 2009-2010 led China to import around 1.5 million mt of US corn and in 2010, China became a net corn importer."
    • "According to the report, China has been making an effort to move away from grain-based ethanol production and into alternative feedstocks. Until May 2006, government subsidies were limited to fuel ethanol, at which time the central government outlined the creation of a special fund to encourage the development of renewable energy resources, including ethanol and biodiesel."
    • "China's National Reform and Development Commission asserts that targeted biofuel production will not threaten China's grain security, but feedstock sources may be expanded to include sugar, oilseeds, sweet sorghum, wheat, and cassava, resulting in higher imports of these feedstocks."[16]
  • Vilsack: US Farms Producing Enough for Food & Biofuels, 6 March 2011 by DomesticFuel.com: "Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack says American farmers are producing enough to provide the food AND fuel, in particular ethanol and biodiesel, this country needs."
    • "Vilsack took the blame for food price increases off the American farmers and biofuels industry and put it on a more likely culprit."
    • "'I think OPEC has more to do with food price increases than farmers,' pointing out that even if you doubled the price of commodities, farmers, with their paltry 20 cents of every food dollar share, wouldn’t see much of an increase in their pocketbooks."[17]
  • USDA Approves Use of Genetically Engineered Corn for Ethanol, 11 February 2011 by Friends of the Earth: "The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced today that it has approved a form of genetically engineered corn created by the biotechnology corporation Syngenta Seeds, Inc. for use in ethanol production."
    • "The USDA deregulated the crop, meaning it is not subject to a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement or any restrictions on where and how it can be planted."
    • "Eric Hoffman warned, “This new strain of genetically engineered corn is not meant for human consumption, but... contamination is bound to happen."
    • "The Renewable Fuel Standard, the law passed by Congress in 2007, requires the consumption of 36 billion gallons of ethanol by 2022, 15 billion gallons of which is projected to be met with corn ethanol. The Environmental Protection Agency recently released a report detailing the harmful impacts that this law continues to have on water, soil and air quality."[19]
  • U.S. Corn Reserves at Lowest Level in More Than 15 Years, 9 February 2011 by The New York Times: "Reserves of corn in the United States have hit their lowest level in more than 15 years, reflecting tighter supplies that will lead to higher food prices in 2011."
    • "The Department of Agriculture reported Wednesday that the ethanol industry’s projected orders this year rose 8.4 percent, to 13.01 billion bushels, after record-high production in December and January."
    • "That means the United States will have about 675 million bushels of corn left at the end of the year. That is about 5 percent of all corn that will be consumed, the lowest surplus level since 1996."[20]
  • Investing in the Future: USDA and DOE Back Biorefinery Development, 2 February 2011 by Biotech-Now.org: "The Agriculture Department has awarded $405 million in loan guarantees to cellulosic biofuel developers."
    • "The guarantees, which will help advanced biofuel companies secure the private equity needed to build commercial facilities, were made under the Biorefinery Assistance Program."
    • "At the same time, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced the offer of a $241 million conditional loan guarantee to Diamond Green Diesel, the proposed joint venture between Valero Energy and Darling International."
    • In addition to the USDA loan guarantees, the department’s Advanced Biofuels Payment Program also announced funding for biofuel producers in 33 states. Plus, the Rural Energy for America Program released $1.6 million in grant money for 68 feasibility studies."[21]
  • The Fine Print: USDA Announces Final Rules for BioPreferred Labeling, 1 February 2011 by Biotech-Now.org: "The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced its final rules for the BioPreferred biobased product certification and labeling."
    • "This system will let companies that produce biobased products and chemical ingredients designate these products as made from renewable resources, with a clear indication of the percentage of renewable plant, animal, marine or forestry materials in the product."
    • "To apply, companies must submit testing evidence to USDA detailing a product’s biobased content as well as up-to-date information on any brand names the product uses."
    • "Moreover, if a manufacturer makes a claim on the product’s packaging regarding its environmental and human health effects, sustainability benefits and performance, the manufacturer must include documentation that supports those claims."[22]

2010

  • Common roadside plant could become new source of biofuel, 5 November 2010 by Sify.com: "Scientists with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), USDA's principal intramural scientific research agency, have found that field pennycress yields impressive quantities of seeds whose oil could be used in biodiesel production."
    • "Field pennycress belongs to the Brassicaceae family, along with canola, camelina and mustard-other prolific producers of oil-rich seeds. The ARS studies help support USDA's efforts to develop new sources of bioenergy."
    • "Pennycress can be grown during the winter and harvested in late spring, so farmers who cultivate pennycress can also maintain their usual summer soybean production without reducing crop yields."[23]
  • U.S. to Pay Farmers for Non-Food Crops for Biofuels, Vilsack Says, 21 October 2010 by Bloomberg: "The U.S. will pay farmers to produce non-food crops that can be converted to fuels for planes, cars and power plants to reduce reliance on imported oil and boost rural economies, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said today."
    • "The Agriculture Department will resume payments to farmers under the 2008 Biomass Crop Assistance Program for eligible perennial crops and work with the Federal Aviation Administration to develop aviation fuels from farm wastes, Vilsack said today at the National Press Club."
    • "Vilsack said he is directing the agency to plan within 60 days and help fund construction of five refineries spread across the U.S. to process biomass into fuels. Higher costs for refiners related to use of the new feedstocks will be paid from up to $281.5 million that remains from the 2008 Farm Act, Vilsack said."
    • "To boost demand for ethanol during the transition to higher concentrations, the agency will help deploy 10,000 blending pumps at convenience stores and filling stations around the country. Each of those pumps cost $25,000, which would put the total cost of the expansion at $250 million, Vilsack said."[24]
  • USDA and DOE Partnership Seeks to Develop Better Plants for Bioenergy, 2 September 2010 by the US Department of Energy: "Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced research awards under a joint DOE-USDA program aimed at improving and accelerating genetic breeding programs to create plants better suited for bioenergy production."
    • "The research grants will be awarded under a joint DOE-USDA program focused on fundamental investigations of biomass genomics, with the aim of harnessing lignocellulosic materials--i.e., nonfood plant fiber--for biofuels production. Emphasis is on perennials, including trees and other nonfood plants that can be used as dedicated biofuel crops."[25]
  • Genetic map for switchgrass published, aids in study of biofuel, August 25 2010 by Andrea Johnson: "As farmers wait to produce new alternative energy crops, some USDA Agri-cultural Research Service (ARS) scientists are uncovering the secrets of switchgrass which, they say, holds so much potential as an alternative energy source."
    • "The USDA ARS Switchgrass team has found that switchgrass produces five times the cellulosic ethanol needed to cover the energy needs required to grow it and make it into fuel."
    • "It is also a perennial that reduces weed pressure and holds soils in place - preventing wind and rain erosion. It sequesters carbon long term, and it can be fed to cattle."
    • "One of the challenges with switchgrass is the need for fertilizer and water - just like corn - to produce maximum yields. Because it’s a perennial, it is challenging to get into the tall grass to apply fertilizer. The more switchgrass is harvested, the more water and fertilizer it needs to continue to thrive."
    • "Scientists hope to modify the cell wall composition of switchgrass to improve its properties for co-firing in a power plant. They also hope to use biotechnology to increase its digestibility and access to enzymes that would produce fermentable sugars for ethanol production."[26]
  • USDA Report Punches Another Hole in Land Use Change Theory, 30 June 2010 by Renewable Fuels Association: "The amount of land dedicated to crops in the United States has dropped for the second straight year in 2010, according to a report released today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The report, which shows total cropland has declined 6 million acres since 2008, is further evidence that growth in ethanol production is not leading to cropland expansion, according to the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA)."
    • "While 2010 corn acres increased 1.6% from 2009, the uptick was more than offset by reductions in acreage for other coarse grains and wheat. USDA estimates total 2010 crop acres at 318.9 million, down from 319.3 million in 2009 and 325 million in 2008."
    • "RFA also noted that corn plantings were down from last year in many states with high levels of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acreage, which challenges the notion that grain ethanol expansion is leading to increased CRP conversion."
    • "USDA’s Acreage Report is available here."[29]
  • Biofuels from algae plagued with problems, says review, 7 May 2010 by SciDevNet: "Hopes that algae could become a source of biodiesel that is friendly both to the environment and the poor may be premature, according to a review."
    • Algae feedstocks "have serious drawbacks that may mean they can never compete with other fuels, according to Gerhard Knothe, a research chemist with the US Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service."
    • "When researching his paper, 'Production and Properties of Biodiesel from Algal Oils' which will be published by Springer in a book, currently in press, entitled Algae for Biofuels and Energy, he made "unexpected" findings, he said."
    • "Knothe found that 'many, if not most' of the biodiesel fuels derived from algae have 'significant problems' when it comes to their ability to flow well at lower temperatures ('cold flow') and they also degrade more easily than other biofuels."
    • "The principal hope for overcoming the problem," scientists said, "is through genetic engineering of algae so they yield oils with more useful properties."[30]
  • DOE, USDA Announce Funding for Biomass Research and Development Initiative, 6 May 2010, press release by the Department of Energy: "The U.S. Departments of Energy (DOE) and Agriculture (USDA) today jointly announced up to $33 million in funding for research and development of technologies and processes to produce biofuels, bioenergy and high-value biobased products, subject to annual appropriations."
    • "DOE also released today a new video which showcases how cellulosic biofuel technologies can help decrease U.S. dependence on foreign oil, spur growth in the domestic biofuels industry, and provide new revenue opportunities to farmers in many rural areas of the country."
    • "The video, shot at a harvesting equipment demonstration in Emmetsburg, Iowa, highlights a new way of producing ethanol from the cellulose fibers in corn cobs, not from the corn kernels. The technology generates a new opportunity for farmers to harvest and sell the cobs that they’d normally leave in the field."[31]
  • EPA Administrator and Agriculture Secretary Team Up to Promote Farm Energy Generation, 3 May 2010 press release by USDA: "U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson today announced a new interagency agreement promoting renewable energy generation and slashing greenhouse gas emissions from livestock operations. The agreement expands the work of the AgSTAR program, a joint EPA-USDA effort that helps livestock producers reduce methane emissions from their operations."
    • "The collaboration will expand technical assistance efforts, improve technical standards and guidance for the construction and evaluation of biogas recovery systems, and expand outreach to livestock producers and assist them with pre-feasibility studies."
    • "Biogas is composed primarily of methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Biogas emitted from manure management systems called digesters can be collected and used to produce electricity, heat or hot water."[32]
  • Vilsack calls for proposed rules review, 19 April 2010 by Ethanol Producer Magazine: "USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack has called for public comments on proposed rules relating to the production of advanced biofuels. Under the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 (The Farm Bill), the proposed rules will increase production through three programs administered by USDA Rural Development: Biorefinery Assistance Program, Repowering Assistance Payments and the Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels."
    • "The rule will not only create guaranteed loan regulations for the development and construction of commercial-scale biorefineries, but also for existing facilities performing a retrofit that uses an eligible technology to develop advanced biofuels."
    • "There will be no minimum loan amount, and the maximum will be $250 million as long as the amount doesn’t exceed 80 percent of the total eligible project costs. The loans will be available through 2012."[33]
      • For the full text of proposed bills and information on how to comment see this Federal Registrar page.
  • Solazyme’s amazing algae, 18 March 2010 blog post by Marc Gunther: "Algae are so good at producing oil from sunlight and carbon dioxide that there are, by some accounts, as many as 200 companies trying to make biofuels from algae."
    • "Solazyme, a private company based in South San Francisco, stands out from the algae crowd, for a number of reasons....First, there’s the sheer variety of its products."
    • "Solazyme, unlike other startups, is 'producing large volumes of oils and fuels, and we have been for a while,' says its CEO, Jonathan Wolfson."
    • "Keep in mind that algae’s a risky, crowded business. Sapphire Energy, a prominent competitor, got a $50 million DOE grant and a $54 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in January to expand its commercial-scale pond operation in New Mexico. Meanwhile, GreenFuel, another algae startup which raised venture money and signed a commercial production deal, shut down last year."[34]
  • Obama Announces Steps to Boost Biofuels, Clean Coal, 3 February 2010, US Department of Energy Press release: "At a meeting with a bipartisan group of governors from around the country, the President laid out three measures that will work in concert to boost biofuels production and reduce our dangerous dependence on foreign oil."
    • "The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finalized a rule to implement the long-term renewable fuels standard of 36 billion gallons by 2022 established by Congress. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has proposed a rule on the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) that would provide financing to increase the conversion of biomass to bioenergy."
    • "In addition, President Obama announced a Presidential Memorandum creating an Interagency Task Force on Carbon Capture and Storage to develop a comprehensive and coordinated federal strategy to speed the development and deployment of clean coal technologies."[35]
  • Biomass Crop Assistance Program to Spur Production of Renewable Energy, Job Creation, 3 February 2010, USDA Press Release: "[T]he U.S. Department of Agriculture today issued a proposed rule for the new Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) that intends to spur the expansion of dedicated non-food crops for renewable energy and biofuel production."
    • " BCAP is intended to reduce the financial risk for farmers, ranchers and forest landowners by providing incentive payments to those who invest in the production, harvest, storage and transportation of new first-generation energy crops that displace hydrocarbon-based materials now used for heat, power and vehicle fuel."[37]

2009

  • USDA Makes a Move on Methane, 12 December 2009 by CQ Politics: "Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a conference call from Copenhagen that his department and the dairy industry have reached an agreement to accelerate efforts to reduce the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2020. The announcement is part of the Obama administration’s continuing campaign to convince farmers they can benefit from an international agreement on climate change."
    • "USDA will provide technical assistance and grants to dairy farmers for anaerobic digesters and generators used to compost manure, extract gases and burn them to produce electricity. Manure emits methane, a major greenhouse gas."[38]
  • DOE and USDA Award $24 Million in Biomass Grants, 18 November 2009 by EERE News: "DOE and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced on November 12 more than $24 million in grants for the research and development (R&D) of biofuels, bioenergy, and high-value biobased products. The grants will support a dozen projects aimed at increasing the availability of biofuels and other products produced from biomass."
    • "Six projects involve R&D in biomass conversion technologies, including...develop[ing] kinetic models of biomass gasification" and "develop[ing] a yeast fermentation organism that can cost-effectively convert cellulosic-derived sugars into isobutanol, a second-generation biofuel that balances high octane content and low vapor pressure".
    • "Three grants will support biomass feedstock development" including "develop[ing] a form of switchgrass with new traits that eliminate the need for both expensive pretreatment equipment and enzymes".
    • "The final three awards will support analyses of future biofuels production. Purdue University will analyze the global impacts of second-generation biofuels within the context of other energy technologies, as well as alternative economic and climate change policy options".[39]
  • Climate bill a farm income boost, USDA estimates, 22 July 2009 by Reuters: "U.S. farmers and foresters could earn more money from carbon contracts than they pay in higher costs from legislation to control greenhouse gases, the Agriculture Department estimated on Wednesday."
    • "USDA's "preliminary analysis" was one of the first attempts at a broad-spectrum examination of the House-passed climate bill. Most of its 13 pages were devoted to grains, cotton and soybeans. Limited space went to livestock and none to fruits and vegetables."
    • "Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the House climate bill would increase farm expenses by $700 million, or 0.3 percent, from 2012-18. That would be offset by revenue from a carbon offset market, estimated by USDA at $1 billion a year in the near term and $15 billion in 2040. EPA administrator Lisa Jackson said offsets would be worth nearly $3 billion a year in 2020 for farms, ranches and forests."
    • "Beyond that, said Vilsack, is income from biofuels, worth a net return of at least $600 million a year."[40]
  • Agriculture secretary wants more ethanol in gas, 9 March 2009 by MSNBC: United States "Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says the government should move quickly to increase the amount of ethanol allowed in gasoline."
    • "Ethanol producers asked the Environmental Protection Agency last week to increase the amount of ethanol that refiners can blend with gasoline from a maximum of 10 percent to 15 percent, which could boost the demand for the renewable fuel additive by as much as 6 billion gallons a year."
    • "It is up to the EPA to lift the cap. Adora Andy, the EPA's press secretary, said in a statement Friday that the agency will review the request and 'act based on the best available science.'"[42]

2008

  • U.S. announces 'Biofuels Action Plan', 7 October 2008 by Science News: "U.S. government officials have released the National Biofuels Action Plan (PDF file), an interagency plan to accelerate development of a sustainable biofuels industry."
    • "U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer and Department of Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said the plan is in response to President George Bush's goal of cutting U.S. gasoline consumption by 20 percent in the next 10 years.
    • "Bodman said the plan is a 'strategic blueprint' showing the way to increasing biofuels production by 2022. He said the plan shows how to accomplish that goal 'in cost-effective, environmentally responsible ways that utilize a science-based approach to ensure the next generation of biofuels that are made primarily from feedstocks outside the food supply that are produced sustainably.'"[43]
  • DOE, USDA Granting More Than $10M to Ten Biofuel Genomics Studies, 31 July 2008 by GenomeWeb: "The US Departments of Energy and Agriculture today said that they will provide nearly $11 million over three years to fund 10 genomics research programs that can help develop bioenergy feedstocks for use in cellulosic biofuels."
    • ""Under the joint Plant Feedstock Genomics for Bioenergy program, the DOE will contribute $8.8 million from its Office of Biological and Environmental Research, and the USDA will provide $2 million through its Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service".[44]
  • USDA Rule Change May Lead To Crops on Conserved Land, 11 July 2008 by the Washington Post: "Under pressure from farmers, livestock producers and soaring food prices, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is weighing a policy change that could lead to the plowing of millions of acres of land that had been set aside for conservation."
    • The "ethanol boom, widespread flooding and high prices for feed crops have changed the equation. Livestock producers have been howling about the high price of animal feed."
    • "CRP lands are also the subject of a legal dispute playing out in federal court in Seattle. This week, a federal judge there sided with the National Wildlife Federation and issued a temporary restraining order against the USDA to stop an earlier initiative that allowed limited grazing and haying on CRP lands."[45]
  • Food Report Criticizes Biofuel Policies, 30 May 2008 by the New York Times: U.S. "Agriculture Secretary Edward T. Schafer is preparing to walk into a buzzsaw of criticism over American biofuels policy when he meets with world leaders to discuss the global food crisis next week."
    • Schafer "said an analysis by the Agriculture Department had determined that biofuel production was responsible for only 2 to 3 percent of the increase in global food prices, while biofuels had reduced consumption of crude oil by a million barrels a day."
    • "Just hours before his comments, a major report was released in Paris that urged countries to reconsider biofuels policies in the wake of soaring food prices."[46]
  • Farm Bill Establishes New Biomass Crop Assistance Program, 23 May 2008 press release by 25 x '25: "A program to encourage farmers to establish and grow biomass crops in areas around biomass facilities has been included in the recently adopted [U.S.] 2008 Farm Bill. The Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) would help producers willing to switch part or all of their acreage to dedicated energy crops."
    • "Agricultural producers in BCAP project areas may contract with USDA to receive biomass crop establishment payments" plus other payments to support crop harvesting, storage, and transport...."Producers are also prohibited from planting noxious or invasive plants as part of the program."
    • The bill "also sets up through the U.S. Forest Service a competitive research and development program to encourage use of forest biomass for energy....The bill encourages USDA to work closely with the Pine Genome Initiative (PGI), which proponents say would promote healthy forests and the development of new biofuels technology."[47]

2007

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