USDA releases roadmap for biofuels

By Luke Geiver | June 10, 2010
June 24, 2010

The USDA has released a report titled, "USDA Biofuels Strategic Production Report." The 21-page report offers a regional roadmap to meeting biofuels goals of the RFS2 by 2022, and states, "USDA's objectives for this report include: providing the practical knowledge from the field that can enhance various models for biofuel production, identify challenges and opportunities and help develop solutions to this massive undertaking." Citing multiple agencies including: Rural Development, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Forest Service, the Farm Service and the Office of the Chief Economist, the report also aims to assess: existing eligible feedstock supply and land availability, current and potential infrastructure capacity and current and potential regional consumer demand.

By 2022, the USDA has estimated which feedstocks will be in use and how many gallons each will provide to the RFS2 totals. For dedicated energy crops (perennial grasses, energy cane and biomass sorghum) the estimated number of gallons will total 13.4 billion gallons (bg). For oilseeds (soy, canola) 0.5 bg; crop residues (corn stover, straw) 4.3 bg; woody biomass (logging residues only) 2.8 bg; and for corn starch ethanol 15 bg. The estimates do not include tallow, MSW or algae.

Once again reiterated by USDA is the push for a regional approach to biofuel production. "USDA recognized that different regions of the country have a comprehensive advantage to the type of feedstock that can be produced and utilized in biofuel production." The report also says that by leveraging these regional resources, biofuels can be a natural solution to the Nation's dependence on oil.

Doing so however, means building more biorefineries. "Assuming an average biorefinery size of 40 MMgy, USDA estimates it meeting the RFS2 advanced biofuels goals will mean building of 527 biorefineries, at a cost of $168 billion." The report estimated that "a steady cellulosic plant construction cost" to be $8 dollars per gallon. Part of the numbers on advanced biofuels production stem from a conservative approach by the USDA on technology changes, the report said. "The agricultural sector as a whole is incredibly productive and has consistently outpaced productivity increases in other sectors, in part, due to its investment in technology (e.g. drought resistant seeds)."

The greatest potential for production of advanced biofuels lies in the Southeast region and Hawaii including: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. The report stated that a significant amount of volume, up to 50 percent, would come from this region due to the robust growing season that supports the highest gallons per acre crops of all biofuel crops. The Northeast region will represent 2 percent of production potential capacity, the Central East will make up 43.3 percent and the Northwest region 4.6 percent. (The Western region is less than 1 percent.)

Of all the areas the USDA can provide immediate assistance, the report notes that blender pump assistance is one area that the Department can address right now. But for the importance of the entire biofuels industry, the USDA "intends this report to provoke discussions and looks forward to further work on this issue which may prove to be one of the most important of the 21st century."

To view the full report: