The Environmental Protection Agency announced it would delay until fall a decision on whether to increase the blend rate for ethanol above the current 10% limit. In a statement, EPA said more testing still needs to be conducted on cars to how they perform on a 15% ethanol blend. EPA said the ‘preliminary results “look good.” Growth Energy said, “As you would expect, we find this further delay unacceptable. The fact that the federal agencies involved here cannot meet their own deadlines – on a decision that means so much to our nation – reinforces a public perception that government bureaucracy does not work in the best interests of the public. With fossil fuels getting dirtier, costlier and riskier to extract, as we are witnessing with the epic catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, now is the time we should move on expanding the production and consumption of clean, renewable fuels like ethanol.” Growth Energy filed the petition last year requesting the increase to 15% blend.
Roadmap to Achieve Renewable Energy Goals — USDA released a report outlining the current state of renewable transportation fuels efforts and a plan to develop regional strategies to increase the production, marketing, and distribution of fuels in the United States. The report, “A USDA Regional Roadmap to Meeting the Biofuels Goals of the Renewable Fuels Standard by 2022,” provides information on current production and consumption patterns and projections to meet the RFS mandate of 36 billion gallons of biofuels by 2022. USDA's report identifies numerous biomass feedstocks to be utilized in developing biofuels and calls for the funding of further investments in research and development of:
• Sustainable production and management systems;
• Efficient conversion technologies and high-value bioproducts, and
• Decision support and policy analysis tools.
The report is available at www.usda.gov.
Corn-Ethanol Improving Energy Efficiency — A report by USDA’s Office of Energy Policy and New Uses indicates the net energy gain from converting corn to ethanol is improving in efficiency. The report measured all conventional fossil fuel energy used in the production of 1 gallon of corn ethanol. For every British Thermal Unit (BTU) unit of energy required to make ethanol, 2.3 btus of energy are produced. The ratio is somewhat higher for some firms that are partially substituting biomass energy in processing energy. Since the last study in 2004, the net energy balance of corn ethanol has increased from 1.76 btus to 2.3 btus of required energy. According to the report, overall, ethanol has made the transition from an energy sink, to a moderate net energy gain in the 1990s, to a substantial net energy gain in the present. To review the report go to: www.usda.gov/oce/reports/index.htm.
Conservation Practices Work in Upper Mississippi River Basin — A comprehensive study released by USDA found that conservation practices installed and applied by agricultural producers on cropland are reducing sediment, nutrient and pesticide losses from farm fields in the Upper Mississippi River Basin (URMB). Key findings from the study, “Effects of Conservation Practices on Cultivated Cropland in the Upper Mississippi River Basin,” include:
• Suites of practices work better than single practices;
• Targeting critical acres improves effectiveness significantly; practices have the greatest effect on the most vulnerable acres, such as highly erodible land and soils prone to leaching;
• Uses of soil erosion control practices are widespread in the basin. Most acres receive some sort of conservation treatment, resulting in a 69 percent reduction in sediment loss. However, about 15 percent of the cultivated cropland acres still have excessive sediment losses and require additional treatment;
• The most critical conservation concern in the region is the loss of nitrogen from farm fields through leaching, including nitrogen loss through tile drainage systems.
According to USDA, the study also revealed opportunities for improving the use of conservation practices on cropland to enhance environmental quality. For instance, the study found that consistent use of nutrient management (proper rate, form, timing and method of application) is generally lacking throughout the region. Improved nutrient management would reduce the risk of nutrient movement from fields to rivers and streams.
P. Scott Shearer