Senators talk biofuels at ACS briefing, senate committee hearing

By Erin Voegele | February 03, 2012

Several federal lawmakers have addressed the issues of renewable energy and advanced biofuels this week. On Jan. 30, U.S. Sen. Christopher Coons, D-Del., spoke at the American Chemical Society briefing on advanced biofuels.

“Sustainable biofuels production is essential in my view for our economy and our future,” Coons said. “As we all know, there are a number of environmental and socio-economic and other policy challenges we have to face, and this [briefing] was a great starting point as a concrete forum to look at how we begin to move forward towards workable solutions that will require cooperation from many public and private interests to be able to move from the field to the filling station in the future.”

During his speech, Coons spoke about financing next-generation biofuels, noting that he hopes he can contribute to the process of moving forward and clearing the very significant financing hurdles that the biofuels industry faces. Coon said he understands there are several challenges in term of biomass and financing that the industry has to get past. “That is exactly the point of marrying policy to science, in my opinion,” he said. “Biofuels are home-grown resources that have enormous potential for job creation, for rural economic development, and for more.”

Coons also addressed the National Academy study that suggests our nation is unlikely to achieve the RFS2 goals by 2022. He noted, however, that that prediction was based on the absence of renewable fuels policy. The only way to achieve those goals is to fight hard to sustain current policy trajectories and to inject additional policy initiatives, Coons said.

According to Coons, it is important that industry stakeholders and their congressional representatives continue to fight for investments from the U.S. DOE and USDA, and for the extension of tax credits for advanced biofuels—especially those that can be utilized to build production plants. He also noted it will be important to work on a path forward for the renewable fuel standard.

 “More than anything, I think I am encouraged by the fact that there are four commercial-scale cellulosic projects not just in future development, not just being talked about, but actually being developed,” he added. “There will be concrete facilities in production on a time horizon that is short enough so that the many doubting Thomases can be dragged by the nose to visit them, or to witness them in production, or to see documentation of how they actually work.”

The day following Coons’ speech, the Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources conducted an oversight hearing on the U.S. and global energy market outlook for 2012. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., opened the hearing by noting that the geopolitical uncertainties that impacted the oil markets in 2011 should serve as a reminder that oil markets—and oil prices—are an important factor in our country’s economic security. He also noted that the U.S. is no longer the primary world driver of oil markets and prices.

Howard Gruenspecht, acting administrator of the DOE’s Energy Information Administration, was one of four experts who testified at the hearing. According to Gruenspecht, U.S. dependence on imported petroleum liquids is expected to decline in the future due to both increased domestic oil production and an increase in the use of biofuels. In fact, he estimated that more than 1 million barrels per day of biofuel in terms of crude oil equivalent will be consumed by our nation by 2024. Similarly, Richard H. Jones, deputy executive director of the International Energy Agency, said that the global biofuel supply is expected to triple by 2035.

Enzyme company Novozymes A/S released a statement in response to the hearing, noting that renewable fuels will be needed to meet rising energy demands in the U.S. “Numbers tell stories—and the numbers here are clear: America cannot meet its energy needs without a mix of fuels that include renewable solutions like advanced biofuels,” said Adam Monroe, president of Novozymes North America. “It’s proven that home-grown, renewable energy can put steel in the ground, create jobs and power our economy. Working with Congress, we can help America become less dependent on foreign oil, but we need steady policies like the renewable fuel standard.”

Novozymes’ statement also mentioned a report that was recently commissioned by the company and completed by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. According to Novozymes, that report describes how sustainably transforming agricultural residues into advanced biofuels could create millions of jobs worldwide, result in economic growth and the reduction of greenhouse gases, while increasing energy security. 


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