Bioenergy = Biomass + $$$$
By Cat Lazaroff
WASHINGTON, DC, January 21, 2000 (ENS) - Converting waste from food crops, trees and other forms of biomass into a vast array of fuels and products is the focus of a new research and development initiative proposed by President Bill Clinton. Part of the White House’s fiscal year 2001 budget proposal, the plan would increase biomass research funds by more than $93 million over this year's budget.
A bioreactor fermenting biomass into ethanol, a clean burning fuel (Four photos by Warren Gretz. All photos courtesy National Renewable Energy Laboratory)
Biobased industries use agricultural, forest and aquatic resources to make an array of commercial products including fuels, electricity, chemicals, adhesives, lubricants and building materials. In August 1999, Clinton issued an Executive Order with a goal of tripling U.S. use of bio-based products and bioenergy by the year 2010.
Clinton instructed a number of federal agencies, including the Department of Energy (DOE), Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Science Foundation (NSF), and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to work closely together in supporting a broad range of biomass research and development efforts.
Clinton’s fiscal year (FY) 2001 budget would provide $49 million in additional bioenergy research funds for the DOE and $44 million for increased research and development efforts at the USDA. In addition, the Commodity Credit Corporation would provide $100 million in FY 2000 and up to $150 million in FY 2001 and 2002 in incentive payments to encourage production of biobased fuels.
Reaching the President’s goal could generate billions of dollars of new income for farmers and diversify and strengthen the rural economy, producing 50,000 new high technology jobs in small processing plants in rural America, and up to 130,000 such jobs in biopower, bioproducts and biofuels industries.
Discarded newspapers are among many potential biomass sources for ethanol production
It would generate 348 million barrels of non-petrochemical oil a year, equal to the amount of oil carried by 158 supertankers. Switching to non-fossil fuel energy sources would lower the emissions of greenhouse gases by 100 million tons, equal to the amount emitted by 70 million cars.
A major goal of this initiative is making biomass a viable competitor to fossil fuels as an energy source and chemical feedstock, while protecting the environment. Continuing advances in forest and farm technology, molecular biology and other areas make this goal achievable, but "capturing the goal will require an unprecedented effort to support research in universities, companies and our national laboratories," the White House said Thursday.
In the past few years, for example, federal research has developed techniques that accelerate the production of sugars and other useful chemicals from materials like corn and wood. Private companies are applying these research results and making major investments in the new technologies.
"In the near future we can expect production of loose fill packaging materials from a combination of plastic resins and natural polymers made from biomass," the White House said, as an example of the benefits of this plan. "The research funded under this initiative will ensure a continuing flow of the basic innovations on which such investments can be made."
Pyrolysis oil made from wood waste products, can be turned into make adhesives and resins, and plastic products like those shown here
Clinton’s initiative would support research concepts on a competitive basis. The research aims to understand the basic chemistry of cellulose and other materials in biomass, and develop new thermal, chemical and biochemical techniques for converting these materials into useful forms.
The White House is particularly interested in supporting integrated systems capable of processing feedstocks simultaneously into a variety of products such as fuels, chemicals and electricity. Much like today’s petroleum based refineries, the mix of products from these facilities would depend on market conditions.
The biomass initiative would support research partnerships linking industry, university, and government research facilities selected on a competitive basis. Key areas of new research activity will include:
- Development of inexpensive cellulase systems to break down cellulose into low cost sugars for the production of bio-based chemicals and bioenergy. This will allow woody and grassy crops and agricultural waste such as corn stalks to take the place of high-value grain and food crops as biofuel feedstocks.
- Renewable bioproducts, using multi-disciplinary and university/industry partnerships to develop and accelerate adoption of technologies for converting crops, trees and residues into chemical feedstocks and consumer products.
- Biopower, promoting both the integration of biomass gasification systems with modern gas-turbine and steam-turbine generation systems, and the co-firing of biomass with coal at levels ranging from 5-15 percent biomass by heat value.
- Methane gas recovery pilots to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from livestock operations, providing a clean energy source to the producer, and providing assistance to farmers that want to produce or market biobased products.
- Expanded agricultural research to develop biobased materials from commodities and bioproducts, and convert biomass to energy.
- Competitive resources for research partnerships involving universities that will complement the new Initiative for Future Agriculture and Food Systems.
- Rural development grants to rural electric cooperatives to develop pilot projects to demonstrate the commercial viability of small scale biomass fuel generation, grants for technical assistance to cooperatives for processing and marketing biobased products, and loans for facilities and operating capital for organizations engaged in biobased production activities.
- The Commodity Credit Corporation will accelerate commercial investment in innovative bioproduct and bioenergy technologies by providing up to $100 million in FY 2000 and up to $150 million in FY 2001 and 2002 in incentive payments to ethanol and other bioenergy producers to expand production of biobased fuels. Payments would be made on a portion of the increase in agricultural commodities purchased for expanded bioenergy production, with smaller and cooperatively owned facilities receiving higher payment rates.
- Expanded Forest Service research on faster growing trees and the use of small diameter trees for commercial, biobased products.
Earlier this month, the DOE released a study showing that by the year 2010, the agriculture and forestry industries could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by producing and utilizing more bio-based products, fuels and power.
The McNeil Generating Station in Burlington, Vermont is America's utility-owned and operated wood-fired power plant (Photo by Burlington Electric Department)
"The findings of this report will help support the President's efforts to build a larger bioenergy industry in this country," said Energy Secretary Bill Richardson. "By giving us real statistics and outlining concrete solutions, this report will help foster bioenergy related activities that can promote new energy resources, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help ensure economic growth for the nation's farmers."
The DOE report, "Emission and Reduction of Greenhouse Gases from Agriculture and Food Manufacturing," is the first comprehensive analysis of U.S. agricultural activities and their impact on greenhouse gas emissions. The report finds that agricultural and forestry industries currently produce one-tenth of all greenhouse gases emitted in the U.S. The greatest impact of those emissions comes from methane and nitrous oxide rather than carbon dioxide.
The report provides strong support for accelerating the development of a national bio-based products industry to satisfy a portion of that increased demand. An integrated bioenergy industry will boost opportunities for rural America, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, lower dependence on oil imports and expand the possibilities for sustainable energy use in power production, transportation, agriculture, chemicals and manufacturing.
In Hawaii, industrial collaborators will use sugar cane to produce ethanol and electricity, under contracts to be awarded this spring
The report was funded by the DOE to evaluate the relationship between the American agriculture and forestry sectors and greenhouse gas production. It incorporates contributions from over 40 experts and cites 65 technical references. Copies may be obtained by calling 800-862-2086.
The Energy Department's Agriculture Industry of the Future program provides cost shared funding to industry partnerships conducting research and development for the bio-products industry. For more information on the IOF initiative, visit the Web site at: http://www.oit.doe.gov/industries.html