Biofuels Called Into Question

A recent study circulating in the US Agriculture Department has questions the prospects of biofuels made from crop residue and other plant cellulose and advocates shifting funding away from these projects. The USDA report advocates focusing more resources on developing algae and oil crops, rather than biofuels made from corn stalks and other grasses.

“After two decades of research without a sustainable technical breakthrough to make cellulosic ethanol competitive, it appears that it is time to re-evaluate the research,” the report said.

Logistical difficulties in gathering, transporting, and storing the massive amounts of plant biomass is at the heart of the report and remains one of the crucial barriers to the commercial development of cellulose based biofuels. “It’s just overwhelming, the logistics” involved in making cellulosic ethanol, said Bill Horan, an Iowa farmer, “We think there is maybe more potential in algae right now than cellulosics.”

Mandated by the 2008 farm bill, the USDA’s advisory committee’s report, paneled by a combination of academics, scientists, and business consultants, has made the rounds at the Agriculture Department and has been read by all the agencies in charge of agricultural research. The USDA’s official response to the report has been a call for further research, “to increase efficiency and productivity of all crops, crop residues, biomass and other substances.”

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer