DOE accepting comments on engineered high-energy crop proposal

By Erin Voegele | January 30, 2015

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy has published a notice in the Federal Register announcing the availability of the Engineered High Energy Crop (EHEC) Programs Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (draft PEIS), which evaluates the potential environmental impacts associated with the DOE’s proposal to implement one or more programs to catalyze the development and demonstration of crops specifically engineered for increased energy production. According to the notice, a main component of the proposed programs would be providing financial assistance to conduct field trials to test the effectiveness of EHECs in the southeastern U.S.

Information published by the DOE on its EHEC PEIS website indicates the proposed action would provide funding to recipients, such as research institutions, independent contract growers, or commercial entities, to conduct confined field trials to test the effectiveness of EHECs. The confined field trials could include development-scale trials of up to 5 acres, pilot-scale trials of up to 250 acres and demonstration-scale trials of up to 15,000 acres. Engineered crops within confined field trials would be grown only after obtaining regulatory permits that identify procedures to prevent the unintentional spread and establishment of the crop.

Information published by the DOE notes that examples of EHECs that may be used in confined field trials include, but are not limited to, crops being investigated under ARPA-E’s PETRO program, which focuses on plants engineered to replace oil. These crops could include engineered varieties of camelina, loblolly pine, tobcco, giant cane, sugarcane, miscanthus, sorghum, and switchgrass.

According to the DOE, the PEIS would include Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and some areas of Florida. The program could be expanded to other states in subsequent environmental reviews if expansion of the EHEC program is warranted.

The DOE is accepting comments on the draft PEIS notice of availability until March 17. A public hearing is scheduled for Feb. 17 in Washington, D.C. The DOE will also host two web-based hearings on Feb. 24 and Feb. 26. Additional information is available in the Federal Register notice and on the DOE’s EHEC PEIS website.