USDA advances multiple funding programs

By Luke Geiver | June 10, 2010
The USDA is seeking comments on proposed rules and has opened the application process for three advanced biofuels programs administered by USDA Rural Development—Biorefinery Assistance Program, Repowering Assistance Payments and the Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels. "We view these proposed rules as part of the strategy to help meet President Obama's goal to accelerate the commercial production of advanced biofuels and create a viable alternative fuels industry," USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

All three programs offer loans or government assistance. The Biorefinery Assistance Program works to provide loans through a rolling application process, all for future commercial-scale biorefineries or retrofits at existing facilities that add technology to develop advanced biofuels. The proposed rule associated with the Repowering Assistance Program will pay biorefineries 50 percent of installation costs or $5 million, whichever is less, for systems using biomass for power. The Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels proposes to pay producers for advanced biofuels including biofuel derived from: cellulose, hemicelluloses, lignin, sugar, waste material and animal waste, excluding corn kernel starch. Depending on the number of producers participating, the total amount of advanced biofuel produced and the availability of funds, payments will be given out through 2012.

Soon after calling for comments on the proposed rules, the USDA announced that they would start taking applications for all three programs. "This funding will help spur investments in technologies that will reduce reliance on fossil fuels, conserve natural resources and help build a sustained renewable energy in rural America," Vilsack said. "Support provided by USDA through these programs will not only benefit the environment, it will create green jobs and help America become more energy self-sufficient."

The USDA also recently announced joint funding with the U.S. DOE providing up to $33 million for biofuels, bioenergy and biobased products. Cathy Zoi, DOE assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy, reiterated Vilsack's comments on advancing biofuels, also adding that the projects that receive funding will support energy independence and address climate change. "As the demand for energy rises, Americans need alternative, renewable energy sources," said Roger Beachy, USDA chief scientist and director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. "The innovation and technology that these projects develop will foster a sustainable domestic biofuels industry by broadening the nation's energy sources as well as improving the efficiency of renewable fuels." The USDA is taking applications for the Biomass Research and Development Initiative funding. Pre-applications are due July 13 and all applicants who are encouraged to submit full applications will be notified by Sept. 9.
The White House Clean Energy Economy Forum also pushed the message of biofuel use. Speaking before a group of panelists ranging from the agricultural director to a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists, Vilsack described the forum. "This discussion, from my perspective, is really about the core values of the country. It's about revitalizing a very important part of that core. It's about creating a sense of opportunity." Vilsack also noted what he believes we need to do right now with biofuels. "Renewable energy production is a key to sustainable economic development in rural America," Vilsack said. "We must rapidly escalate the production of biofuels to meet the 2022 federal renewable fuels standard goal, and much of this biofuel will come from feedstocks produced by America's farmers and ranchers."

The possibility of seizing the opportunity presented by biofuels was discussed in a Farm Bill hearing held in Sioux Falls, S.D. where Scott Weishaar, Poet vice president of commercial development, and David Hallberg, CEO of Prime BioSolutions, both testified. Hallberg noted that the ethanol industry has only expanded in years of federal government support combined with stimulus polices. "What you and your colleagues are doing here today will ultimately have a substantial, if not defining, impact on the future of the domestic biofuels industry," Hallberg said. "And on the nation's campaign to significantly reduce, and one day eliminate, its costly dependence upon imported oil."