The House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Conservation, Credit, Energy and Research held a hearing Thursday to review progress toward commercialization of advanced biofuels like cellulosic ethanol.
USDA Under Secretary for Rural Development Dallas Tonsager and Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics Rajiv Shah testified on their organizations’ work during the first panel.
Tonsager said USDA’s Rural Development work area has funded more than 100 projects worth more than $200 million for biofuels projects from FY2001 to FY2008. He also reported on a number of 2008 Farm Bill programs related to biofuels development including:
- the Biorefinery Assistance Program, which has issued two awards for a total of $105 million in funding, with two additional applications under review;
- the Repowering Assistance Program, which has an application window closing on Nov. 1 that should provide $20 million in funding for biorefineries to replace fossil fuels with renewable biomass; and
- the Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels, which provides payments to agricultural producers to expand production of advanced biofuels and should soon issue $30 million to eligible producers who applied in FY2009.
Shah focused on the research challenges posed by the current renewable fuels standard (RFS), which requires 36 billion gallons of biofuels by 2022, of which 21 billion gallons must be produced from sources other than corn.
Shah says REE is “allocating significant resources from both our intramural and extramural research assets where scientific breakthroughs can make significant contributions to the emerging biofuels industry.”
Shah said recent research has established guidelines for harvesting corn stover residues to protect soil water and carbon levels. He also said USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science have funded seven projects totaling $6.3 million for fundamental research into biomass production.
A second panel included private-sector witnesses who shared their views of the industry’s progress and their companies’ plans.
Craig Shealy, president and CEO of Osage Bio Energy provided an extensive report on its first plant, set to become operational in May 2010. The plant, located in Hopewell, Va., will use barley grown as a double crop behind soybeans as a feedstock. Shealy reported this would bring $100 million in annual revenue into the local farming community and help reverse the trend of declining agricultural acres.
William Roe, the president and CEO of Coskata, Inc., testified that their process can produce 100 gallons of ethanol per dry ton of biomass material. He said cellulosic ethanol can compete directly with oil when it is in the range of $70 to $90 per barrel and provide 96 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions throughout the fuel’s lifecycle.
Susan Ellerbusch, the president of BP Biofuels North America, told the Subcommittee that her company is looking to produce cellulosic biofuels from dedicated energy crops as well as biobutanol and biofuels using Brazilian sugarcane as a feedstock.
All three industry witnesses cited difficulty getting financing – even with the backing of government grants and loans – as a major impediment to moving forward with their projects. The witnesses also addressed inconsistencies in the RFS and the ethanol blend wall they feel need to be corrected for the industry to grow.
NAWG has been deeply involved in efforts to create policies supporting second- and third-generation biofuels, particularly cellulosic ethanol that uses wheat straw or dedicated energy crops as a feedstock. For more on that work, please visit http://www.wheatworld.org/issues/cellulosicethanol/.
Written testimony provided by the witnesses is available on the Committee website at http://agriculture.house.gov/hearings/index.