Federal Support for Biofuels Intensifies

By Rona Johnson
There was a flurry of activity in the first week of February as the government released the proposed rule for the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, the final rule to implement the renewable fuels standard (RFS2) of 36 billion gallons by 2022, and the administration's Biofuels Interagency Working Group released its first report aimed at boosting biofuels production.

The RFS2 reduced the requirement for cellulosic ethanol from 100 million gallons to 6.5 million gallons, but the industry seemed to think that was a fair judgment as it is still in the early stages of development.

We at Biomass Magazine are still going through the 104-page proposed rule for the BCAP program but we encourage readers who have concerns to send their comments to the USDA. A copy of the rule and comment instructions can be found at www.fsa.usda.gov/bcap.

The biofuels working group report called "Growing America's Fuel" can be found at www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/rss_viewer/growing_americas_fuels.PDF. The report outlines the steps the government needs to take to achieve the 36 billion gallon goal. It emphasizes the implementation of a supply chain systems approach that makes sure that the biofuels produced are compatible with our transportation fuels infrastructure, and it establishes lead agencies that will be responsible for each segment of that chain. Also in the report, is a proposal to create USDA Regional Feedstock Research Centers to "develop sustainable supply chain strategies and science-based implementation plans designed to accelerate biofuels feedstock production and reduce transaction costs to feedstock producers and biorefineries."

All this activity came on the heels of President Barack Obama's State of the Union address in January where his commitment to renewable energy was clear when he talked about the need to encourage innovation. "Last year, we made the largest investment in basic research funding in history an investment that kills cancer cells but leaves healthy ones untouched," Obama said. "And no area is more ripe for such innovation than energy." Although he used advanced batteries and solar panels as examples, we in the industry know that biomass-based power is much more efficient.

Obama also mentioned the need for continued investment in renewable fuels, which is crucial if we want to be able to commercially produce fuel from crop residue and energy crops, which is what this issue is all about.

In his address, the president also said one of his goals is to increase the amount of goods that the country exports. "Because the more products we make and sell to other countries, the more jobs we support right here in America," Obama said. "So tonight, we set a new goal: We will double our exports over the next five years, an increase that will support 2 million jobs in America. To help meet this goal, we're launching a National Export Initiative that will help farmers and small businesses increase their exports, and reform export controls consistent with national security." I believe the biomass industry could help with this goal by shipping products such as wood chips, biomass pellets and torrified biomass and biomass-based chemicals and fertilizers to other countries.