The agro-energy industry gets nearly three quarters of a billion dollars from the Obama administration -- what this means for the future of biofuels.
The Obama administration has given biofuels a major boost. The President has announced he'll tap nearly $800 million from the economic recovery package to fuel agro-energy research and speed up commercialization.
And to ensure biofuels don't aggravate to climate change or displace food crops for fuel, the Administration also created an interagency group made up of the EPA, and the departments of Agriculture and Energy.
"Living on Earth's" Steve Curwood talks with Jim Lane, publisher and editor of "BioFuels Digest" about the future of biofuels.
Lane explains where the $800 million will go: "Well it's gonna go into three buckets. And the first bucket is going to be an investment in accelerating the commercialization of cellulosic biofuels, and that is to get it out of the labs and onto the street. And the second bucket is designed to keep those plants that are already receiving some funding on their commercialization path, because it's been pretty hard for them to take the money they've already received and turn that into fuel because of all the financial crisis. And the third bucket is to put more money into what are called drop-in fuels, and that's a great solution for biofuels."
Drop-in fuels are green versions of diesel or gasoline, according to Lane: "A drop-in is made from biomass but it behaves exactly like diesel or gasoline. It's called green diesel or green gasoline. So it's made from bio energy, but when you put it in your car, you don't need to make any adjustments in the infrastructure, you don't need to change national pipelines. And basically you can distribute it and use it the same way you use it the same way you do your current fuel, it just has a better emissions picture and it's certainly made at home and available now."
An example is fuel made from algae, which Lane says, are "called third generation fuels because they don't change the way we operate our vehicles."
The 2007 Farm Bill requires the United States to produce some 36 billion gallons of biofuels a year, designed to cut eleven percent of our greenhouse gas emissions. That would be equal to taking some 24 million cars off the road.
Lane breaks down the fuels that will help hit that target: "Well we're gonna have fifteen billion gallons are gonna come from conventional biofuels, that's the corn ethanol and soy based biodiesel that we are currently using today. So it means that we're not going to be using too much more of that.
"And then we're gonna get 16 billion gallons from cellulosic biofuels, and these are made from agricultural residues such as corn stover, stalks, made from forest residues, also made from waste, landfills.
"And then we're gonna get four billion gallons of advanced biofuels and these are these drop-in fuels that we've talked about made perhaps from algae and other bio energies like that. And then we'll get a billion gallons of biodiesel, and that'll be made primarily from soy and from camelina and other kinds of crops like that."
Much criticism has been made of biofuels -- for example, the corn ethanol program -- that they displace crops, and other products that could be used for food as well. Lane explains how the new biofuel initiative addresses this: "Well it addresses it in two ways, its very clever actually. First of all, they've changed some of the definitions to make them more fuel neutral, so they no longer call for things like cellulosic ethanol, they're asking for cellulosic biofuels. So, you know, we can fulfill that in a variety of ways, we don't necessarily have to make ethanol.
"Secondly, they've capped -- and this has been for some time -- they've capped the amount of corn ethanol at 15 billion gallons and we're very close to that already. So, the message from Washington is very clear that corn ethanol is here to stay, but very much in the volumes that we're looking at right now, and the future is very much in these advanced biofuels that do not use, in many cases, any land because they're using residues and waste matter that's already there or they're using very high yield substances like algae where we get ten to fifteen times the productivity per acre than we get from corn. So, it's a real game changer as well as acceleration."
The president's directive asks for a look at the overall -- the life cycle, global warming -- implications of the new biofuels. How this will be calculated: "Well there's a direct impact that's called field to wheels and they measure all the various inputs that go in and some of those are fossil fuels, such as moving fuel and moving feed stock to the plant and from the plant.
"Then there's an indirect component and the theory here is that if you produce a lot of biofuels using existing crop land, that's gonna raise the prices and that will encourage people to do conversion of fallow land or land used for less profitable items such as cattle to bioenergy or food production. So that's called an indirect impact and that can have emissions.
"So, it's very early days in measuring that. There is a model called the GTAP model which is produced by Purdue, and there's a lot of controversy in the scientific community and there will be a lot of discussion over the next sixty days about exactly how that's implemented. And I think that as we look at the details that are coming through here, I think we can see that the administration has actually come up with a really, really good way to approach this where they've protected to past, but really put us on a future course that's going to get us into these third generation drop-in fuels very quickly."
Hosted by Steve Curwood, "Living on Earth" is an award-winning environmental news program that delves into the leading issues affecting the world we inhabit. More "Living on Earth."