Obama backs biofuels with fast-track agenda

By Luke Geiver | January 04, 2010
Posted Feb. 3, 2010

Obama Administration officials came out strongly backing biofuels in outlining its agenda to fast track biofuels development. The Biofuels Interagency Working Group, IWG, which consists of members from the USDA, U.S. DOE and the EPA, released an agenda outlining an approach for achieving President Obama's biofuels target. The group, formed in May 2009, says the purpose of the agenda is to not only help support the current biofuel industry, and the president's biofuel targets, but to accelerate the commercial and sustainable establishment of the advanced biofuel industry.

The group notes several factors contribute to the existing situation for the biofuel industry, and states that, "we are not on a trajectory to reach the Congressional 36 billion gallons per year goal by 2022 or to meet the 100 million gallons cellulosic target in 2010." The main factors contributing to the problem of reaching the biofuel targets are linked to an extended U.S. economic recession as well as the unsuccessful coordination among government agencies, according to the agenda. Under the current situation, the group points out that hundreds of projects have been funded, but a lack of explicit government management has made reaching the goals difficult. Referring to the plans to meet the 2022 goal, the group says, "If we are to meet this target, we will have to work in a new way and set much more aggressive internal benchmarks for progress."

To reach the goal, IWG suggests that the EPA could allow higher alcohol blends for motor vehicles by validating the suitability of E15 or E20 blends. Along with the suggestion to promote blends higher than the current ten percent blends, the group says expanded government use of flex fuel vehicles in urban areas of the upper Midwest will aid in meeting the goals.

Current corn based ethanol systems are mature and widely understood according to the group, but, "there are opportunities to develop new markets for corn-based ethanol that can provide improved economic stability, increased rural wealth and reduced use of petroleum based feedstocks." One of the new markets mentioned in the agenda is ethanol used in green products, replacing crude oil. Along with the development of new corn-based ethanol markets, the agenda claims bio coproducts (DDG) will help to diversify product option and risk.

The creation of income for both farmers and rural communities is also a part of the plan. To do so the group proposes five USDA Regional Feedstock Research Centers. The hope of the centers is to reduce transaction costs while planning and developing regional supply chains bringing together feedstock development, logistics, conversion, coproduct production and distribution among others. Apart from the research centers, the agenda notes the need for strategies to get greater production from the same amount of land currently used for biofuel. IWG says, "Lessons learned from the past have shown that increased skill in management practices can have as great an effect on increased productivity as genetic improvement does, so improved varieties will be developed to enhance sustainable production and minimize natural resource use."

IWG closes the report by stating, "We will invigorate, grow fuel and create new jobs in America with this plan."