Soccer moms use it. Dads use it to get to work. Teenagers use it to drive to school. Biofuels, including ethanol, are no longer just in our futures; they play a big role in our present ways of life. But with the current emphasis in Washington D.C. on budget cutting, the range of biofuels industries are being impacted, says Jim Frederick, a Clemson research agronomist focused on biofuels.
Headquartered at the Pee Dee Research and Education Center in Florence, S.C., Frederick was one of the organizers of the recent South Carolina Bioenergy Summit at the Pee Dee REC, the fourth annual event of its kind. Some of the speakers at the Summit addressed the new political realities for the developing biofuels industry.
"One group dealt with what is happening in the industry right now and what is not happening, why it is happening and why it might not be happening," Frederick notes. "With a mood of budget cutting in Washington, one program I know it is hurting is the BCAP program (the Biomass Crop Assistance Program). That program helps farmers with their establishment costs for certain types of biofuels crops, like the grasses (used biofuel production) and also provides a matching payment at the point of sale for a set number of years.
"It takes some of the risk out of the energy crops," Frederick adds. "After all, just planting a crop when the market is getting up and going is a risk -- and right now that is where many of the biofuels are. The market is still uncertain and marketers are saying, 'I can't really go forward until I see farmers actually producing these crops. It is one of those which comes first, the chicken or the egg situations."
The BCAP program is administered through the Farm Service Agency. "Right now that program is slated to be cut," Frederick says.
Frederick notes U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is pushing to get BCAP reinstated into the 2012 Farm Bill and Frederick is optimistic about it. Where he can't be optimistic he's philosophical.
"I don't think the budget cutting is any sign of politicians being down on renewable energy," he says. "It is just a recognition of the need to make necessary budget cuts, right now. The federal government is just trying to reduce the deficit and everything is on the chopping block now -- or at least susceptible to being put on the chopping block."
At the same time, he says he has no doubt about the long-term future for biofuel. "It is going to happen," he says. "It is just a matter of when."
Frederick notes for the near future new solid biofuel uses are probably going to be moving forward ahead of the liquid fuels. Solid fuels are essentially the coal replacements that can be used conveniently by utility companies. They are often pelletized products. "We can use the solid fuels right now," he says.