The Front Blog

Conversations from the Four Rivers Region

Posts Tagged ‘fuel

Reining in Estimates on the Biofuel Economy

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Iowa State University economist David Swenson has spent twenty years monitoring the biofuel industry in the United States. During his presentation at Tuesday’s Food, Fuel, and Society conference, Swenson argued for more conservative estimates on the potential jobs created from biofuels.

A study released last year by BIO, the biotechnology industry organization, estimated the number of jobs that will be created in the coming years. Brent Erickson, executive vice president of BIO’s Industrial and Environmental Section concluded from the report, “Increasing advanced biofuel production to a modest target of 45 billion gallons by 2030, which can be achieved by maintaining the same pace of technology development, could create more than 400,000 jobs within the industry and 1.9 million new jobs throughout the economy. Further, it could provide an economic boost of $300 billion.”

Kentucky is a fringe member of the major corn-production belt, but that hasn’t kept it from signing on with biofuels. In 2008, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear released his Energy Plan, which sets a goal of meeting 25 percent of the state’s energy needs through “reductions through energy efficiency and conservation and through the use of renewable resources.” As part of that, the administration added a Division of Biofuels. A task force within the agency estimated Kentucky’s biofuel industry alone could create, “as many as 10,000 permanent jobs.”

But Swenson says no way. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Angela Hatton

October 14, 2010 at 1:11 pm

Expert Answers WKMS Biomass Question

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Chad Lampe asked the following question about biomass:

“Missouri’s Democratic 8th District Congressional Candidate Brett Sowers mentioned last night during a debate that his district is like the Saudi Arabia for trees. He wondered why there aren’t any major biomass productions in his district. I’d be darn interested to learn more about biomass production in our part of the country. What would they yield? Does the effort justify the outcome? Would we lose all of our “treescape” if we adopted this biomass alternative energy model?”

Patrick Westhoff of the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute at the University of Missouri offered the following answer:

Many people have been discussing the possibility of turning woody biomass into biofuels, and of course we’ve been burning woody biomass for thousands of years. So far, no one has figured out a way to make biofuels profitably from woody biomass—there have been some research-scale efforts, but nothing commercial.

The future of using woody biomass for biofuel production depends on:

1)      Technology—will we discover more efficient ways to harvest, transport, and process woody biomass to make biofuels?

2)      Policy—will existing incentives be continued or increased?  As it is, some of the special incentives for biofuel production from woody biomass are set to expire within the next three years. Investors may be wary of making long-run investments when it’s far from clear what the policy environment will be when plants are actually operational.

3)      What will be the price of oil? Things that don’t make economic sense at $80/barrel oil may look a lot more attractive if oil prices increase sharply.

4)      Lots of other things, ranging from rules governing what can be harvested to the development of competing biofuels.

Woody biomass can, of course, also be used for electricity generation.  As with biofuels, this will depend on prices, policies, technology and much more.

Potential per-acre yields of woody biomass are relatively high, but I’m probably not the best person to ask (you might want to talk to Francisco Aguilar from the Agroforestry program here at MU).

Given all these uncertainties, you should not be surprised to hear that it’s almost impossible to guess the potential scale of activities, and thus what the effect on the landscape might be.

Written by Angela Hatton

October 12, 2010 at 3:07 pm