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.”


Perdue urges Bush to tap reserves to help with gas shortages

29 09 2008

Atlanta Business Chronicle

Gov. Sonny Perdue has sent a letter to President George W. Bush to ask him to order the U.S. Department of Energy to release a significant amount of crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to help ease the pain of fuel shortages in the Southeast .

“As refinery capacity is returning to pre-hurricane levels, I believe a surge in crude from the reserve would bridge the gap until full production resumes and lessen the impact of shortages on the daily lives of our citizens,” Perdue said.

The U.S. Department of Energy has reported 57.4 percent of crude oil production capacity in the Gulf of Mexico is out. This is a slight improvement from Friday, when 59.3 percent of capacity was out.

The DOE has already released more than 4 million barrels of oil from the reserve. While it would take time for the crude to be processed by refineries and shipped to metro Atlanta market, release of the reserve would ensure fuel supplies continue to rise, the governor’s office said.

Read the letter here.

Bush Wants Some Endangered Species Act Rules Extinct

16 08 2008

WASHINGTON (AP) — Just months before President Bush leaves office, his administration is antagonizing environmentalists by proposing changes that would allow federal agencies to decide for themselves whether subdivisions, dams, highways and other projects have the potential to harm endangered animals and plants.

The proposal, first reported by The Associated Press, would cut out the advice of government scientists who have been weighing in on such decisions for 35 years. Agencies also could not consider a project’s contribution to global warming in their analysis.

Reaction was swift from Democrats and environmental groups.

See the full article here.

Climate Change Forces Proposed Changes to the Endangered Species Act (ESA)

13 08 2008
The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) has proposed to update a portion of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) regulations that govern the endangered species responsibilities of federal agencies, known as Section 7.
Under these proposed regulatory changes, federal agencies would have the authority to decide for themselves, without consultation with U.S. Fish and Wildlife (FWS) or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), if their construction projects threaten an endangered or threatened species. The proposed regulations also prohibit federal agencies from linking greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to the deterioration of any species’ habitat. Federal agencies that determine that a project does not have an adverse impact to a threatened or endangered species would accept all liability for any harm that results to the protected wildlife or habitat. According to DOI, the changes will make it easier for agencies to understand when and how the regulations apply and reflect current practices and recent courts cases.

Read further 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.