U.S. Energy Secretary Outlines Plans for New Kind of Ethanol

President Bush's energy initiatives include $160 million in funding for three biorefineries to turn ag waste into ethanol. Cherry Brieser Stout


Published on: Feb 23, 2006

Move over traditional corn-based ethanol. President Bush wants ethanol made not just from corn, but also from agricultural waste, perennial grasses and forest residues.

U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman announced $160 million in cost-shared funding over three years to construct up to three biorefineries in the United States. Bodman visited Archer Daniels Midland in Decatur on Feb. 22 during a tour around the country to promote President Bush's energy initiatives.

The plan is for the refineries to make a "new kind of ethanol" viable within six years, says Bodman. The private sector is being encouraged to find ways to make ethanol from biomass products, such as corncobs, cornstalks, switchgrass, poplar trees and wood pulp. An estimated 1.3 billion dry tons of biomass feedstock would be available in the United States. That's enough feedstocks for this "cellulosic ethanol" to replace 30% of the country's oil needs by 2030, according to Bodman.

"This funding will support a much-needed step in the development of biofuels and renewable energy programs," Bodman says. "Partnerships with industry like these will lead to new innovation and discovery that will usher in a new era of reduced dependence on foreign sources of oil," he adds.

"The goal here is to increase the supply of fuels," noted the energy secretary, who called ethanol a favorite source of energy development funding from the private sector.

Implications for corn-based ethanol

How will the new push to diversify ethanol sources play with corn growers? "The future of ethanol is still corn," says Mark Lambert, communications director of the Illinois Corn Growers Association, after listening to Bodman's remarks made in the backdrop of ADM's trading floor.

"It's going to escalate the introduction of other materials, but that's years away," Lambert observed.

"We have not done all we can with corn yet," continued Lambert. Ongoing research is "geared to using as much corn as possible, so we're not swamped with DDGS (distillers dried grain with solubles).

"Near term, I think corn is king," says Lambert. "Long term, corn will have a major role in ethanol production. I think there's room for everybody," he adds.