U.S. House subcommittee discusses biofuels

By Erin Voegele | June 02, 2008
Web exclusive posted June 13, 2008 at 12:19 p.m. CST

The U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Rural and Urban Entrepreneurship held a hearing on second generation biofuels June 11. The focus of the hearing was to explore the role of small businesses in expanding biofuel production and discuss the production of biofuels from second generation feedstocks.

"At a time when our country is paying $4 a gallon for gasoline, it is critical that we continue the development of alternative energy supplies to help reduce prices and our independence on foreign oil," Chairman Heath Shuler, D-N.C., said.

Most of the nation's current ethanol production is derived from corn, but cellulosic ethanol can be created from inedible materials, such as corn stalks, wood chips and switch grasses. Biodiesel production has also seen a transformation. Energy can now be harnessed from waste materials, such as cooking grease and non-virgin oils.

"U.S. entrepreneurs have always been at the forefront of timely innovation," Shuler said. "Fuel supply is no different. Cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel can have an enormously positive impact on domestic fuel availability, rural communities, and small firms. They can also provide the nation with cleaner energy."

While these production methods hold considerable promise, small businesses can face many obstacles in large scale production of second-generation biofuels. Witness testimony called for a range of small business friendly federal policies to spur technological development and remove barriers to producing clean energy. Suggestions included tax credits, funding for research and development, and federal mandates.

"Small firms should be given the opportunity to innovate in this critical area of the economy," Shuler said. "Supporting biofuel production by family farmers and other entrepreneurs is not a novelty. It's a win-win proposition for the U.S. taxpayer."

Witnesses testifying at the meeting included Dr. Robert J. Woodley, director of process engineering at Abengoa Bioenergy New Technology in Lakewood, Colo.; Scott Barnwell, general manager of Blue Ridge Biofuels in Asheville, N.C.; Tom Todaro, chief executive officer of Targeted Growth and Sustainable Oils in Seattle; Jeffrey M. Trucksess, executive vice president of Green Earth Fuels in Houston; and Robert Byrnes of Nebraska Renewable Energy Systems in Oakland, Neb.