ARS Scientist Helps Craft National Academies Report on Alternative FuelsBy Ann Perry
September 25, 2009
An Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientist was a key contributor to a National Research Council report on the technical feasibility, costs, and environmental impacts of producing alternative transportation fuels.
The report, Liquid Transportation Fuels from Coal and Biomass: Technological Status, Costs, and Environment, was the result of collaborations between 16 experts from public and private organizations and was released in May. It is the first of a series of studies to be released from the National Academies' America's Energy Future project, which was undertaken to stimulate and inform a constructive national dialogue about the nations energy future.
The report authors concluded that fuels from coal and biomass could help alleviate the U.S. demand for oil. However, significant technological investments will be needed to develop cost-effective and environmentally sound techniques for producing transportation fuels from coal and biomass.
Douglas Karlen, research leader at the ARS Soil and Water Quality Research Unit in Ames, Iowa, was a key contributor to the chapter on Biomass Resources for Liquid Transportation Fuels. The chapter provides an overview of how the proper management of lignocellulosic biofuels could contribute to U.S. energy security, support U.S. agriculture and rural communities and help protect the environment, all in a sustainable manner.
The chapter also reviews challenges to the development of the biomass-supply industry. For instance, it will be necessary to organize farmers, intermediate partners and biofuel conversion facilities into a well-coordinated and sustainable lignocellulosic ethanol industry.
The report also notes that researchers will have to determine how biofuel crops would affect greenhouse gas emissions throughout their production cycles, including emissions from farm equipments, fertilizers and other crop supports. In addition, efforts will be needed to increase the recognition of crop residues and similar materials as agricultural resources for minimizing soil erosion, recycling nutrients and sequestering carbon.
The report is accessible online at
ARS is the principal intramural scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.