Cellulosic Ethanol

Did you know that NAWG’s bylaws include representation of biomass energy crop growers?

Agricultural residue like wheat straw is a feedstock of choice for many companies working on commercializing cellulosic ethanol. But, in most places, this residue will have to be supplemented by additional biomass material from dedicated energy crops.

Many agricultural producers who will grow dedicated energy crops in the near future grow wheat now or have acres in the Conservation Reserve Program that previously produced wheat. NAWG’s leaders feel it is our organization’s responsibility to ensure both wheat growers and biomass growers are accurately and adequately represented in policy discussions.

Economic Opportunity

A 2005 USDA/Department of Energy study identified 1.3 billion tons of agriculture residue and dedicated crops that could be converted into cellulose ethanol on an annual sustainable basis. In normal market conditions, wheat growers can generally realize anywhere from a ton to two tons of straw per acre, which, at a market rate of $15 per ton, would mean an additional $15 to $30 per acre in the windrow, with no further work required on the part of the farmer.

The economics of switchgrass are less clear because both the switchgrass-producing industry and the cellulosic ethanol industry that will purchase switchgrass are in their infant stages. However, switchgrass biomass yields conservatively run from two to five tons per acre or, at the market rate of $15 per ton, $30 to $75 per acre in the windrow. Expected future advancements in the genetics of switchgrass could influence yields and produce an even more favorable situation.

Loan Guarantees for Commercialized Cellulosic Ethanol Plants

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 established a loan guarantee program to help companies secure financing for construction of commercialized cellulosic ethanol refineries. NAWG has been a strong supporter of this program and continues to urge its quick and full implementation. More information on this program is available at the Department of Energy’s Loan Guarantee Program Office Web Page.

Renewable Fuels Standard

NAWG supports an expanded renewable fuels standard that became law in late 2007. This RFS calls for refiners to blend 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels into the U.S. transportation fuel supply by 2022, with 21 billion gallons from cellulosic feedstock sources. NAWG believes these requirements provide the stability needed for robust investment in and growth of the biomass and cellulosic ethanol industries.

Correspondence

Senators write a letter to the EPA urging the agency to support the future of biofuels and revise its proposed waiver of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Read the Senate letter here and House letter here. Read NAWG’s comments here.

Biomass Research

NAWG supports USDA/Agricultural Research Service bioenergy research priorities including:

  • development of annual and perennial dedicated biomass crops adapted to a variety of growing regions;
  • determination of the best management practices for the establishment, maintenance, harvesting and transportation of biomass energy crops;
  • determination of the potential impact of proposed biorefineries on water quality and water quantity; and
  • research into alternative processing technologies that would allow the farmer to convert his or her biomass crop into energy at the farm level.