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Biomass 2008: Fueling Our Future Conference

April 18, 2008 - 10:49am

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Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman

Thank you and good afternoon.  It's good to be with you.

I want to thank John Mizroch for introducing me, and to congratulate him and all the folks at the Energy Department's biomass office for pulling together what appears to be a very successful event.

Our national energy policy centers around one key idea: we must diversify our energy sources, our energy suppliers, and our energy supply routes.

President Bush challenged us to move toward diversification at an aggressive rate when he announced his Advanced Energy Initiative or AEI.  AEI provides for the development of energy alternatives to fossil fuels that are more efficient, cleaner, sustainable, and secure.  

The President's Twenty-in-Ten Initiative to reduce gasoline consumption by 20 percent in ten years - by 2017 - requires America to increase its production of biofuels substantially.

In furtherance of these goals, since the beginning of 2007, the Energy Department has announced over $1 billion of investments to spur the growth of a robust, diverse and sustainable biofuels industry.  Most of these are investments in the development and deployment of new and innovative technologies.

Last year, through the Department of Energy's Office of Science, we funded the creation of three cutting-edge bioenergy research facilities that are applying the lessons we learned unlocking the secrets of the human genome to the energy challenges that are already upon us. 

And I am pleased to say that after about only seven or eight months in operation they're already showing signs of progress.

Last week we announced the availability of up to $4 million in funding for U.S. universities for research and development into cost-effective, environmentally-conscious biomass conversion technologies.  Combined with a university cost share of 20 percent, up to $5 million would be invested in these projects. 

These investments and others - including the ones we've made around the country in support of large- and small-scale biorefinery projects - will help bring down the cost of biofuels production and make it possible for them to have a beneficial impact on the nation's energy security sooner than might have been predicted just a decade ago.

Undertaken in partnership with the private sector - in partnership with people like you - these efforts are helping America increase its energy security by decreasing our reliance on fossil energy and our greenhouse gas emissions.

These efforts are forward-thinking, are driven by technology and depend on America's proven spirit of innovation.

Nevertheless, recent media reports have questioned biofuels' sustainability, efficiency, and their environmental impact.

Some critics have gone so far as to argue that our push to add a significant quantity of biofuels to the U.S. energy mix - in particular ethanol made from corn - will cause us to replicate the dependence we now have on fossil fuels and produce no benefit to the environment.

If you'll permit me, I'd like to discuss this issue directly. 

First, I am aware of these concerns and I guarantee you that the Department of Energy takes them seriously. 

In all areas of our research and development, the impact on our global environment - including the impact of energy diversification on land and water resources and world food supplies - is an important part of the discussion.  And it is an important consideration in our technical research.

This has absolutely been the case when it comes to biofuels. 

We've looked at the research and we've concluded that a diverse, sustainable set of biofuels-technologies will measurably improve our energy security and the health of our environment. 

But to do this we must develop, produce, deliver and consume biofuels in an intelligent way and with an urgent focus on sustainability.

So, as we pursue diversity in our overall energy mix we must also pursue diversity in our biofuels. 

This means moving away gradually from ethanol produced from food stocks like corn. 

Let me be clear: I am not minimizing the importance of ethanol made from corn - it is critical to our energy security and America's farmers make an important contribution to our energy security.

But what I am saying is that we need to develop and deploy the next generation of ethanol - ethanol and other products made from biomass products that are outside the food chain.

In my view, this means cellulosic fuels made from agricultural waste products and crops like switchgrass, which can be grown and regenerated on less desirable lands. 

The Department's biomass program is taking full advantage of the wonderful geographic and natural diversity of the American continent, matching projects and potential sources of fuel that are readily available in the country's different regions. 

Regardless of its source, we must produce biofuels more efficiently, cost-effectively and sustainably.  This is, perhaps, the key element. 

The reason that cellulosic fuels like ethanol are not on the market in large volumes is not because we don't know how to make it in commercial quantities.  The production process at present is too complex and costly.  But I am confident we can find the way forward. 

That's why we have so many facilities and people working on the problem now at DOE's network of world class national laboratories and in partnership with the private sector and academia. 

And so I'm pleased to announce that efforts and resources of three more companies - Maine's RSE Pulp & Chemical, Mascoma, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Kentucky's Ecofin, LLC - are being added to this important work. 

They have been selected as the final participants in a total of seven DOE cost-shared partnerships to develop new small-scale cellulosic biorefineries. 

These three projects are in addition to four that I announced earlier this year. 

They will receive up to $86 million in total funding which, when added to funding for the four already announced projects, makes a total investment of $634 million. 

Of that, up to $200 million will come from the Department of Energy and up to $434 million will come as the result of cost-sharing with private industry. 

These biorefineries to be located in Old Town, Maine; Monroe County, Tennessee; and Washington County, Kentucky will operate at a level equivalent to about 10 percent of a full-scale commercial plant. 

They'll utilize a diverse set of cellulosic feedstocks, including agricultural residues like wheat straw and corn stover, energy crops like switchgrass, wood waste from the paper and pulp industry, and forestry residues.

The bottom line is this: concerns about the sustainability and environmental impact of biofuels are not misplaced.  But they are absolutely not a reason to ignore the tremendous promise of biofuels.  

They are an argument for developing them in a way that makes sense - for our environment, for our food supply, for our agricultural community and for our nation's economic health. 

Biofuels must be a part of our energy future - and a major one, at that - but they will not be unless we develop them in sustainable ways.  The key to doing that is similar to all other areas of our energy focus: diversity of sources and efficiency of production and use. 

The President made an important announcement on Wednesday setting a national goal to stop the growth in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. 

This is a bold step, but I think it is important to remind you all that it is a step that is being backed up by real actions, like the Department of Energy's biofuels from biomass efforts. 

This program is a tangible, specific down-payment on the President's commitment to address head-on the problem of global climate change in a decisive, meaningful way that supports the U.S. economy. 

Whether it is biofuels or other clean-energy technologies, in my view it is the Department's job to act as a catalyst, spurring innovation and the creation of new technology.

Through programs like our cutting-edge bioenergy research centers and these large- and small-scale biorefineries even by sponsoring this conference we're bringing the various actors in energy and energy research together in ways that allow them to tackle projects no one person or organization could not handle as well on its own not because of their size but because of the complexity of the problems involved.

The Department's investments are underwriting an aggressive forward push to get new technologies out into the marketplace quickly - so they can have a beneficial impact on our economy and in the lives of the American people sooner. 

These small scale refinery investments I've announced today are part of a comprehensive approach to the problem of how best to responsibly produce the biofuels we'll need - and in the quantities we'll need them. 

All of us the public and the private sector, the worlds of science, academia and finance and every nation, whether they are an energy consumer or and energy producer must continue to work together toward this common goal.   

Thank you.

Location: Alexandria, Virginia

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