The US Secretaries of Agriculture and Energy are the hosts of the Advancing Renewable Energy Conference in St. Louis this week. Both addressed the crowd, estimated at upwards of 1500 people, showing the huge interest in renewable energy nationwide.
Both Secretaries talked about the great need for cellulosic ethanol – in fact, just about every speaker today has at least touched on the topic. Secretary Johanns had the pleasure of announcing $17.5 million dollars in biofuels research and development grants, funded jointly by USDA and DOE. “Developing renewable energy is a priority for the Bush administration,” said Johanns. The 17 projects to be funded by this grant money include projects such as development of commercial corn hybrids for cellulosic biomass to ethanol, willow biomass crop management, waste biomass feedstocks for ethanol production, and doubling switchgrass yield by 2020 for cellulosic ethanol.
Johanns took on a few of the arguments of the (mostly ethanol) “naysayers,” starting with the claim that ethanol costs too much to be competitive with oil without subsidies.
“It costs about $1.10 to produce a gallon of ethanol,” said Johanns. “In fact, ethanol will continue to be competitive with gasoline as long as oil prices don’t drop below $30 per barrel.”
Regarding whether we can produce enough corn to meet the demand, Johanns said people who say that, “haven’t met the same farmers I have.” Johanns added that USDA economists estimate that ethanol production “could nearly double in the next five years, without forcing us to choose between corn for food or for fuel,” and he added that research into new varieties, biomass and new technology will make that happen.
Secretary Bodman noted some of the exciting research the Department of Energy is doing in rapid DNA sequencing and advanced light sources which are making “energy from biomass more promising than any time before.”
Bodman says the goal of the administration is to make cellulosic ethanol cost-competitive by 2012, but that their efforts “are not confined exclusively to cellulosic ethanol. We are also sponsoring promising research on other biofuels from biomass, inlcuding bidiesel, biofuels for aviation, and biologically produced or inspired hydrogen and other fuels from sunlight.”
Listen to a segment of Johanns’ remarks here: Johanns (5 min MP3)
Listen to a segment of Bodman’s remarks here: Bodman (3 min MP3)
Coverage of the Advancing Renewable Energy Conference sponsored by the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council.