Obama Bets Big on Biofuels in Georgia

3 02 2009

Ben Mack | Wired

Plug-in hybrids and electric cars get all the love in Detroit these days, but Washington isn’t giving up on biofuel. Uncle Sam is spending millions of dollars to find ways of turning everything from algae to lawn trimmings into fuel as President Obama promises to invest heavily in alternative fuels.

The departments of energy and agriculture will award $25 million to advance development of “technologies and processes” to produce so-called “next generation” biofuels that aren’t refined from food crops like corn. The announcement follows an agriculture department¬† promise to loan $80 million to Range Fuels, a Colorado company that produces ethanol from wood chips, so it can build a refinery in Georgia.

“A robust biofuels industry – focused on the next-generation of biofuels – is critical to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, reducing our addiction to foreign oil and putting Americans back to work,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement.

The $25 million will finance projects focused on feedstock development, biofuel and biobased product development and biofuel development analysis. The goal is to create a wide range of “economically and environmentally sustainable” sources of renewable biomass that can be turned into fuel and cut greenhouse gas emissions at least 50 percent compared to fossil fuels, officials said.

“These grants will help support the development of a sustainable domestic biofuels industry by broadening the nation’s energy sources as well as improving the efficiency of renewable fuels,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.

The production of ethanol derived from corn, soybeans and other crops has been blamed for everything from spiraling food prices to clear-cutting in the Amazon. But there is great hope for cellulosic ethanol and other fuels refined from non-food biomass because they nullify the food vs. fuel debate and other criticisms. Several airlines are developing algal fuels, each of the Big Three automakers offers “flex-fuel” cars that can run on ethanol and even super-luxury automaker Bentley is promising a biofuel-burning car.

Washington is funding more than R&D, however. During the last days of the Bush Administration, Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer announced an $80 million loan to help Range Fuels build a new refinery. It is the first time the agency has guaranteed a loan to a commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol refinery.

Range Fuels, which Obama visited in October, uses a thermo-chemical process called gasification to convert cellulose to ethanol. Production is slated to begin next year and will be ramped up in three stages, company CEO David Aldous told Ethanol Producer magazine. During the first stage, the refinery will convert 125 tons of woody biomass into fuel each day. That will climb to 625 tons daily and then 2,625 tons – at which point the refinery will produce 20 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol annually. All of the biomass will come from the surrounding timber industry.

“It’s located in the Milion Pines area of Georgia,” Aldous said of the refinery. “There is a very significant supply of wood waste in that area, hundreds of years supply for our plant.”





Ga. senators navigate oil drilling fight

15 09 2008

 

By BEN EVANS, AP

The last time Georgia Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson tried to find middle ground in an emotional policy battle before Congress, they quickly abandoned a bipartisan immigration package after getting pilloried from the right.

Now the Republicans are in the thick of a debate over oil drilling, and they’re again fending off criticism from the likes of Rush Limbaugh over a compromise that would raise taxes on oil companies while paving the way for new drilling off the nation’s coasts.

The issue could come to a head this week as energy takes center stage on Capitol Hill and both parties maneuver to take credit for addressing $4-a-gallon gas prices.

Chambliss and Isakson are so far standing firm behind their proposal, which started with backing from a so-called “Gang of 10” and now has 20 Senate sponsors. But as the package gains bipartisan support, it also is drawing complaints from Republicans that it undercuts GOP momentum on the year’s most high-profile political issue weeks before the November elections.

Limbaugh has repeatedly ridiculed the proposal on his conservative radio show, saying House Republicans are pressing for much more ambitious drilling while the Senate proposal “basically cuts (them) off at the knees.”

The senators also have taken heat from congressional colleagues, including from fellow Georgia Republicans. Rep. Phil Gingrey of Marietta has said the senators are engaged in “procedural pleasantries” while Rep. Tom Price of Roswell contended their approach “doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Price said it is “foolhardy” to leave vast coastal areas off limits to drilling and said “tax increases on domestic oil production is counterproductive to bringing new American energy to the market.”

Chambliss and Isakson dismiss the criticism, arguing that voters want Congress to set aside differences and agree on something that will make a difference – even if it requires trade-offs.

“Usually if the extremes are raising cain, it means you’re doing something right,” said Chambliss, who spearheaded the compromise along with Sen. Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat. “We think if anything is going to get 60 votes, it’s going to be our proposal.”

The plan would allow drilling 50 miles off the coasts of Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia, and the Gulf coast of Florida. It would eliminate tax breaks for the oil and gas industry to generate some $30 billion in revenue, with the money used to offset a massive new investment in alternative energy.

Read on here.





Georgia Lawmakers Support Off-Shore Drilling for Oil

1 08 2008

Georgia lawmakers largely support President Bush’s call to lift a long-standing ban on offshoreoil drilling, including off the state’s coast.¬† All nine of Georgia’s Republican congressmen, including both senators, back the proposal. Three of six Democrats also support it, along with Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue.

The new push for drilling is a response to increasingly urgent complaints from constituents about $4-a-gallon gasoline.

Many experts, including Energy Department forecasters, predict that offshore supplies would amount to a drop in the global bucket and would have little effect on gas prices. But drilling supporters say no one really knows how much oil is out there and that Congress can no longer ignore it.

Read more here.