Biofuels mentioned in President's address

By Holly Jessen | January 04, 2010
Posted Jan. 28, 2010

Alternative fuel supporters listening eagerly to President Barack Obama on Jan. 27 heard the word they were listening for. Biofuels.

During his State of the Union Address Obama laid out four things the United States needs to do to move ahead. The list included serious financial reform, encouraging American innovation, exporting more domestic goods and investing in the skills and education of our people. "I do not accept second place for the United States of America," he said in his speech. "As hard as it may be, as uncomfortable and contentious as the debates may be, it's time to get serious about fixing the problems that are hampering our growth."

The second area, encouraging American innovation, is where biofuels came into the speech. He mentioned job creation from clean energy jobs, using the example of a solar panel project in California. "But to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives," he said. "That means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country. It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development. It means continued investment in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies."

But he didn't stop there. He went on to talk about passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with the needed incentives to "finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America," he said.

The House passed a bill like that last year and Obama said he hopes a bipartisan effort in the Senate will succeed this year. That's when noise from the crowd made it a bit difficult for the President to speak. "I know there have been questions about whether we can afford such changes in a tough economy; and I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change," he told the crowd. "But, here's the thing, even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future - because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy and America must be that nation."

The President's speech was very encouraging, said Wes Bolsen, chief marketing officer and vice president of government affairs for Coskata Inc., a renewable energy company. The best news was the focus on job creation. "Coskata believes that biofuels, by far, is the biggest creator of jobs in all of renewable energy," he said. The company, which is based in Warrenville, Ill., has a semi-commercial cellulosic ethanol facility in Madison, Penn., and is working on designs for a commercial scale plant.

That's something other clean energy sectors lack, Bolsen said. It takes people to build solar cells or install wind turbines, for example, but once they are completed it doesn't take people to operate them. Of all renewable energies, biofuels provides the most benefit for economic growth, energy security and environmental sustainability. "It's the most near term way to reduce our greenhouse gas footprint," he said.

Chris Thorne, director of public affairs for Growth Energy, was also encouraged what Obama said. The very next day, Thorne added, came the positive remarks of U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who spoke Jan. 28 at the 2010 Washington Auto Show. Chu talked about, among other things, the importance of decreasing American dependence on foreign oil and supporting next-generation biofuels, such as through $600 million in grants for 19 pilot, demonstration and commercial-scale biorefineries. "Between what Energy Secretary Stephen Chu said today and what President Obama said during the State of the Union address, we are confident that the Administration sees the great job-creation potential of domestic ethanol," Thorne said.

Some other high-tech industries started here in the United States but were quickly outsourced. Thorne gave the example of flat-screen TVs, which were developed here but are now made in China. "But the development of the domestic ethanol industry would create jobs here in the United States, and those are jobs that can't be sent overseas," he said.

The Renewable Fuels Association lauded the President's focus on public and private investments in clean energy and green jobs during his speech. Still, according to a press release, there are several things the President and Congress need to do to ensure the economic potential of biofuels such as ethanol are realized. The list included using the "best available science" to finalize the renewable fuels standard, approving E15, extending tax incentives for the use of all feedstocks, partner with the industry to expand blending and dispensing infrastructure and mandate for more flex fuel vehicles.

"The President mentioning biofuels in his State of the Union is really just gravy," Matt Hartwig, RFA communications director, told EPM. "The real meat and potatoes will be when this administration and this Congress act on a number of issues important to the long term success of this industry."