Fed Bill Heads for 10% Biofuels

By Published On: April 13, 2007

Concerns about the level of the price support for and the efficiency of alternative fuels were raised during a hearing on a bill that would boost cellulosic ethanol production by providing over $1 billion in the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources April 12. The Biofuels for Energy Security and Transportation Act, S 987, aims to wean the nation from dependence on imported fossil fuels by making 10 percent of the national fuel supply based on domestic sources. “My question is whether we have to go higher” than 10 percent, said Senator Ken Salazar (D-CO). He noted that the controversial $500 million deal between BP and the University of California, Berkeley, to create a new institute for biofuels research and development could commercialize new biofuels technology in three years (Circuit, March 16, 2007). Cellulosic biofuels differ from corn- or oil-based ethanol because they are expected to be able to turn nonfood crops into fuel more efficiently. However, Dan Lashof, Natural Resources Defense Council science director for climate change, asked senators to make sure the bill has explicit standards for life-cycle efficiency. “It’s generally assumed cellulosic has a much greater benefit – but that’s not necessarily true,” Lashof said. It depends, he added, on where the crops are grown and how much fertilizer and water, if any, are added. In addition, the carbon output is also affected by how far and how efficiently the feedstock has to be transported. “Loan guarantees and enabling debt are absolutely integral” to cellulosic biofuel development, said Andy Karsner, assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy for the U.S. Department of Energy. The bill so far includes more than $1 billion in supports and loan guarantee programs for research and development, according to Senator Craig Thomas (R-WY).

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