Obama addresses biofuels during virtual town hall meeting

By Erin Voegele | July 13, 2011

President Barack Obama addressed the need to expedite the development of new, more efficient second-generation biofuel technologies during a recent town hall meeting held via Twitter. The event, hosted by Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, allowed members of the public to pose questions directly to Obama via the social networking site.

Responding to a question submitted by a citizen of Iowa regarding the possibility of cutting subsidies for agricultural products, such as corn ethanol, Obama stressed the importance of developing technologies that can employ second-generation feedstocks. “I’m a big supporter of biofuels,” Obama said. “But one of the things that’s become clear is, is that we need to accelerate our basic research in ethanol and other biofuels that are made from things like woodchips and algae as opposed to just focusing on corn, which is probably the least efficient energy producer of these various other approaches. And, so I think that it’s important to even those folks in farm states who traditionally have been strong supporters of ethanol, to examine are we in fact going after the cutting-edge biodiesel and ethanol approaches that allow, for example, Brazil to run about a third of its transportation system on biofuels. Now they get it from sugar cane and it’s a more efficient conversion process than corn-based ethanol. And so us doing more basic research in finding better ways to do the same concept I think is the right way to go.”

The president also spoke about the importance of reducing our dependency on oil and petroleum-based fuels. “Reducing our dependence on oil is good for our economy, it’s good for our security, and it’s good for our plant—so, it’s a ‘three-fer,’” he said. “And we have not had a serious energy policy for decades. Every President talks about it; we don’t get it done.”

According to Obama, he would like to see a robust legislation package in Congress that would actually start taking steps to reduce oil dependency. “We’re not going to replace oil overnight,” he continued. “Even if we are going full-throttle on clean energy solutions like solar and wind and biodiesel, we’re going to need oil for some time. But if we had a goal where we’re just reducing our dependence on oil each year in a staggered setoff steps, it would save consumers in their pocketbook; it would make our businesses more efficient and less subject to the whims of the spot oil market; it would make us less vulnerable to the kinds of disruptions that have occurred because of what happened in the Middle East this spring; and it would drastically cut down on our carbon resources.”

While the need to reduce our dependency on oil clearly exists, Obama further noted that there has unfortunately been no sense of urgency coming out of Congress regarding the issue over the past several months. “Most of the rhetoric has been about, let’s produce more,” he said. “Well, we can produce more, and I’m committed to that, but the fact is, we only have 2 to 3 percent of the world’s oil reserves; we use 25 percent of the world’s oil. We can’t drill our way out of this problem.”

A full transcript of the town hall meeting can be downloaded from the White House website.


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