Energy | Transportation | Ecotrope

Vilsack: Biorefineries will 'pop up like mushrooms'

Ecotrope | Sept. 28, 2011 11:08 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:35 p.m.

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Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said with the new wave of federal spending on biofuels, we will see biorefineries popping up like mushrooms. Let's hope they don't all pop up like these little guys – in the same place at once. And make sure they're not poisonous!

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said with the new wave of federal spending on biofuels, we will see biorefineries popping up like mushrooms. Let's hope they don't all pop up like these little guys – in the same place at once. And make sure they're not poisonous!

The U.S. Department of Agriculture just announced $80 million in grants to Washington universities for biofuels development. Lots o cash.

The plan is for the University of Washington and Washington State University to use their $40 million apiece and study new kinds of woody biofuel crops, team up with other organizations to develop the supply chain for financing, construction and operation of biorefineries, scope out potential forest feedstock, and even look at converting closed lumber mills to bioenergy facilities.

I happened to be at Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s talk about the American Jobs Act in Portland yesterday, and when I reached for an environmental angle on the story, guess what he brought up. Yep, biofuels.

He painted a lovely picture of what biofuels could do for America: Grow rural economies across the country, reduce our reliance on foreign oil, and keep a lid on gas prices down the road.

But my favorite part was the mushroom connection (transcript below). We might actually be in trouble if biorefineries pop up like mushrooms do in the Northwest. He does realize many of us live in a temperate rainforest, right?

[audio href=”http://stream2.opb.org:9000/download/?f=news/2011/09/0928VilsackBiofuels.mp3” title=”Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack”]”You’re going to see projects where we’re funding research for woody biomass, for perennial grasses, for municipal waste, for a whole variety of things. And you’re going to see biorefineries pop up kind of like mushrooms over the course of the next couple years.”[/audio]

“The Department of the Navy, Energy and Agriculture have come together for a first time initiative to put together resources to help build biorefineries that will help build non-food feed stock aviation and marine fuel that will be used by the Navy as a drop in fuel for their jets and their ships, and we believe will create the opportunity for the commercial industry to use that same fuel supply.

This is an enormous opportunity. An enormous opportunity for a new industry. One that will allow us to make and create and innovate something that the world isn’t necessarily there yet. We can be a leader in it. We have the Navy ready, willing and able to use it and we have the commercial airline industry that’s anxious to have it.

It will continue to reduce our reliance on foreign oil. We’ve gone from 60 percent imported oil to 52 percent in the this country in the last 2.5 years. Part of the reason we’ve done that is because we’re building a biorefinery and a biofuel industry, and we’re trying to make sure it’s not just located in one part of the country, but that it has a national footprint. That it has access and opportunity in all parts of the country and uses the natural resources that are the most prevalent and most available in each part of the country.

You’re going to see projects where we’re funding research for woody biomass, for perennial grasses, for municipal waste, for a whole variety of things. And you’re going to see biorefineries pop up kind of like mushrooms over the course of the next couple years. These are going to create jobs in rural America. They’re going to create a domestic supply of fuel and allow us to have more competition on the petroleum side, which will moderate oil price increases in the future and the domestic supply of fuel. And it will keep the money here instead of sending it to countries that don’t necessarily agree with us or like us.”

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