Kentucky sets biomass, biofuel production goals

By Kris Bevill
Posted September 14, 2009, at 4:12 p.m. CST

Kentucky has developed a 21-member executive task force to facilitate the development of a statewide sustainable biomass and biofuels industry, and to educate state legislators on the ability to utilize local biomass to achieve this goal. The task force held its first meeting Sept. 2, and determined the state needs to produce 25 million tons of biomass annually by 2025 in order for Kentucky to adequately contribute to the federal renewable fuel standard and a state renewable portfolio standard. The state should also produce enough biofuels by 2025 to meet 12 percent, or 775 million gallons per year, of its transportation fuel demand.

"Kentucky's had a good history in biofuels, yet sometimes we forget where we have been," said Frank Moore, director of biofuels at the state's department of energy development and independence. "There's been a lot of biomass work done, but we are not sure that Kentucky has laid the proper foundation to develop an industry." Moore is one of the organizers of the task force and said its purpose is to ensure that an appropriate policy is put in place to build the foundation for a biomass-based energy and fuel industry.

According to Moore, Kentucky currently produces approximately 12 million tons of biomass annually from a combination of agricultural residues, forestry and energy crop production. "To get to 25 million tons by 2025, we have to be visionary as to the level of crop development, genetic development, energy crops and forestry resources, land management and productivity," Moore said. However, he added, crop productivity has more than doubled in the past 25 years, so the task force believes that increasing state biomass production to 25 million tons of biomass by 2025 is a realistic goal.

Moore said while Kentucky is not as fortunate as Midwest states such as Iowa, South Dakota and Minnesota when related to cropland, it does have significant amounts of underutilized forestland and agricultural wastes. Switchgrass is native to Kentucky and can be easily grown as an energy crop, as can miscanthus and other grasses native to the state. A large part of the state is forested and has the ability to generate biomass through forest management, according to Moore. A significant number of acres in the eastern portion of the state consist of reclaimed strip mines and will be explored as potential productive sources of biomass as well.

Approximately 10 million tons of the biomass produced by Kentucky in 2025 would be used for biofuel production, Moore said. The remaining 15 million tons would be dedicated to power generation. Moore expects power generation requirements to move more rapidly than biofuels, "[but] I've been watching cellulose-based technology for 20 years now and we're almost there."

The executive task force has so far required no budget; all members have agreed to volunteer their time and expertise and state universities and government resources are being utilized for research. For more information on the task force and Kentucky's biomass production goals, visit