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Title: Challenges of converting agricultural abundance to biofuels: Agricultural Research Service-United States Department of Agriculture Research

item Dien, Bruce

Submitted to: UJNR Food & Agricultural Panel Abstracts
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 8/28/2008
Publication Date: N/A
Citation: N/A

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: The United States Government is aggressively promoting ethanol and alternative biofuels as a substitute for gasoline. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 enacted on December 19 targets production of 36 billion gallons of biofuels by 2022. Passage of this bill was motivated by recent supply and price shocks in the petroleum market and increasing fears concerning climate change associated with greenhouse gas emissions. The bill targets increasing corn ethanol production from 6.5 billion (2007) to 15 billion gal/yr by 2015. The remaining 31 billion gallons is to come from mostly cellulosic ethanol. Lifecycle analysis clearly indicates cellulosic ethanol is an appropriate response to combat increasing energy imports and to lower greenhouse gas emissions. Cellulosic feedstocks include: agricultural residues (e.g., corn stover and wheat straw), lumber and paper wastes, and dedicated energy crops. The latter are classified as perennial crops that are grown exclusively as a feedstock for conversion to bioenergy and could include for examples warm season grasses (e.g., switchgrass and miscanthus) or woody plants (e.g., hybrid poplar trees). A recent panel of experts from the Department of Energy and United States Department of Agriculture estimated that eventually the United States could produce enough lignocellulose to substitute for 20% of our total petroleum needs (on an energy basis). Even more conservative estimates from the report estimate that production of ethanol from these feedstocks would be sufficient to achieve the renewable energy mandate. Realizing these production targets will still be challenging in terms of overcoming financial, logistical, and technological constraints. Yet given the current environment, there has never been a more opportune time to develop cellulosic ethanol since perhaps the beginning of the oil age. This talk will focus on the major challenges to commercializing cellulosic ethanol and the role the Agricultural Research Service will play. Specific topics covered will include developing herbaceous energy crops, the promise of breeding energy crops for better ethanol yields, and integrated biochemical processes for ethanol production.