Timely Implementation of Farm Bill Programs Is Vital for the Advanced Biofuels and Renewable Chemicals Industry

March 8, 2015 |

ericksonBy Brent Erickson, Executive Vice President, Industrial and Environmental, Biotechnology Industry Organization 

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently announced funding for the Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI) as well as published the final rule for the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP). BIO and the industrial biotech sector worked hard to ensure that these and other programs were reauthorized in the 2014 Farm Bill and received mandatory funding. For companies that rely on these programs to help them with early stage bioenergy research, market adoption of new technology, or to introduce new purpose-grown energy crops, timely implementation is vital. When our companies succeed in commercializing our technologies, we create new economic opportunities for rural communities, new jobs, and new markets for agriculture. And our success makes a powerful argument for Congress to continue funding the programs.

BCAP has successfully aided farmers and ranchers in managing the financial risks of growing and harvesting energy biomass at commercial scale. Producers who cultivate purpose-grown energy crops for the production of next-generation biofuels and bioenergy create jobs in rural America and help reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

The Farm Bill energy programs not only afford energy crop growers new insurance options, but also help growers manage the economic risks of entering a new market. Currently, 36 energy facilities in 14 states accept new energy crop deliveries from growers supported by the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP). An additional 19 energy facilities in 10 states have turned more than 200,000 tons of biomass (dead or diseased trees) from federal lands into renewable energy. That accomplishment helped the Forest Service meet or exceed its restoration goals for Fiscal Year 2014.

The Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI) is a joint program through USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the U.S. Energy Department (DOE) that develops economically and environmentally sustainable sources of renewable biomass and increases the availability of renewable fuels and biobased products. It addresses the development of cost-effective technologies for using biomass in the production of biofuels and/or biobased products, which can lead to cheaper and cleaner alternatives to petroleum based products.

From 2009 to 2013, about three-fourths of the $133.1 million in grants awarded through BRDI subsidized general Research & Development for multiple types of biomass, including woody biomass, perennial grasses, and sorghum. Under BRDI, three private companies, one university, and one USDA research center received a combined $24 million in grants to develop woody biomass into biopower and biofuels.

BRDI has contributed to the success of several projects. For instance, one grant was allocated to the Quad County Corn Cooperative in Galva, Iowa, which is retrofitting an existing corn starch ethanol plant to add value to its byproducts, which will be marketed to the feed markets and to the biodiesel industry. Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. in Findlay, Ohio, received funding from BRDI to help them utilize remaining plant residue from the guayule shrub, which is used for rubber production, for use in biopower and for conversion to jet fuel precursors. Another grant was issued to The University of Wisconsin in Madison, where researchers are developing closed-loop energy systems using dairy manure as a source of fiber and fertilizer.

The USDA has published the final rule on the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) in the Federal Register. The rule includes modifications to cost sharing, eligible types of biomass and other definitions. The USDA is also now accepting applications for research and education grants through BRDI.

These programs will continue to help unlock significant new private investment capital for advanced biofuels, biobased products and renewable chemicals projects, and can help farmers put underutilized farmland into production of dedicated energy crops. These programs will also continue to help generate new employment opportunities while providing certainty for investors in the renewable chemicals and biobased manufacturing sector. We look forward to working with USDA to continue successfully implementing Farm Bill Energy Title programs. Our industry’s success will give us a powerful tool in asking Congress to continue funding the programs.

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