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25 By 25 Update

The Ag Energy Work Group, dedicated to the vision of agriculture contributing 25% of US energy needs by 2025 (25 by 25), hosted a teleconference this week to provide an update as it moves into what the group calls Phase 3 of its activities.

The focus of the group is not just on the substitution of petroleum-based transportation fuel, but on the provision of all types of energy derivable from the land base managed by agriculture—i.e., including wind and solar power generation.

Speaking on the teleconference panel were James Woolsey, former CIA director and member of the National Commission on Energy Policy; Bill Horan, a corn and soybean producer from Iowa; Michael Bowman, a wheat, corn and alfalfa producer from Colorado; and J. Read Smith, a wheat, small grains and cattle producer and co-chair of the project steering committee.

Although Woolsey was more precisely focused on transportation needs (due to the national security implications of oil dependence), all panel participants agreed that it will take all types of feedstocks to meet the 25 by 25 goal.

For many years, one of the biggest barriers to moving toward cellulosic ethanol so one can use about 80% of what grows instead of just of the biggest barriers was people who wanted ethanol just to be made from corn. Today one of the biggest barriers to moving toward 25 by 25 is people who want to limit biodiesel just to material like soy and rapeseed and restaurant grease. Europe makes 300 million barrels a year of biodiesel and we make 25. One of the reasons is that we limit the types of [feedstocks]...

As long as we try to limit ethanol to corn and not cellulose, and try to limit biodiesel to things like soy rather than being all inclusive the way Europe is, we are going to end up having 25 by 25—but it will European 25 by 25.

—James Woolsey

What we have been unsuccessful in is making the links between wind energy and the liquid fuels market. As we move forward into the plug-in hybrids over a period of time, we can find ways to transfer electrons generated from wind into a replacement for liquid fuel...Also, our most immediate wind opportunity is taking pressure off natural gas demand.

Wind now is becoming quite competitive with low cost electricity in this country—which is coal.

—Michael Bowman

The Ag Energy Work Group sees itself as a facilitator in achieving the 25 by 25 vision. During what it characterizes as Phase 2 of the project, the group has been focusing on:

  • Forming the alliance within the agriculture community.

  • Building interfaces into the utility community to help ease the integration of new agricultural land-based wind and solar power generators into the utility grid. (Not easy from several aspects.)

  • Conducting an inclusive economic analysis that will examine all of the impacts of 25 by 25. The group hopes this will be complete within 6 months.

  • Expanding communications outreach.

  • Work to strengthen the ongoing political support for renewable energy (not just during Energy Bill negotiations).

  • Identify policies that will accelerate agricultural energy solutions.

  • Recruit and engage corporate sponsors. John Deere just last week endorsed the efforts.

On the recent report by Pimentel and Patzek slamming the sustainability of both ethanol and biodiesel (earlier post), Woolsey had this to say:

The National Commission on Energy Policy completely disagrees with them... You need only about one barrel of oil equivalent to produce seven barrels of cellulosic ethanol. They are running foursquare against the considered judgement of the National Commission on Energy Policy. I don’t know where they got their numbers.


  • Ag Energy Work Group Teleconference archive



Good stuff. It sounds like they've basically called out Congress for porkbarreling energy projects. Expanding the ways that we can extract green-e from the ecology/economy is essential, and groups like these guys need to keep looking for ways to expand those methods in legal/economic terms as well as scientific methods.

Still, 2025 is right around the corner. I dont' see how the hell we'll get 25% by then. If we're at 10% I'll be suprised, to be honest. Who knows -- maybe peak oil and something approaching peak natural gas will force these adaptions in the energy economy...


Is this 7x cellulosic energy gain projected, or in production somewhere?


A bit of both, I think. Seven is the figure used by Iogen, the Canadian cellulosic ethanol company whose fuel went into the G8 cars this week. I don’t know if that 7 is based on analysis of their actual data or is their own projection based on what they know.

For the data on some of his comments, Woolsey used this backgrounder fact sheet on the NCEP site.

Produced by Lee Lynd, Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth University and Lester Lave, Tepper School of Business, Carnegie Mellon University, the 2003 paper projected a ratio of energy output to fossil energy input of greater than four with room to improve.


So the bio-fuels community is torn between people who want to increase the market for certain crops (the ag lobby, aka "rent seekers") and the people who want to do something about petroleum dependence and high fuel prices (everyone else).  This is a surprise?

This is certainly why zinc fuel cells, for all their potential, are not a big focus of attention:  there is no established constituency for them.


I found this older page typing link with care:

"Substantial reductions in ethanol production costs may be made possible by replacing corn with less expensive cellulose-based feedstocks. Cellulosic feedstocks include agricultural wastes, grasses and woods, and other low-value biomass such as municipal waste. Although cellulosic materials are less expensive than corn, they are more costly to convert to ethanol because of the extensive processing required. Cellulase enzymes (used to convert cellulose to sugar) at $0.45 per gallon of ethanol are currently too expensive for commercial use. Current technology, however, could reduce the cost of enzymes to less than $0.10 per gallon of ethanol if a sufficient market develops.[15] Advances in biotechnology could lower costs further by allowing fermentation of the nonglucose sugars produced in the hydrolysis of cellulose using genetically engineered bacteria. If Department of Energy goals are met, the cost of producing ethanol could be reduced by as much as 60 cents per gallon by 2015.[16] Currently, the cost of producing ethanol from cellulose is estimated to be between $1.15 and $1.43 per gallon in 1998 dollars.[17]"

That was apparently written in 2002 or earlier ... I'd like to know if the "enzyme cost" has been reduced as they hoped/predicted, or if the Woolsey-style plans count on future reductions. I didn't see a clear reference to that in his fact sheet. FWIW.


I read a little bit of the Iogen site seem to think they've done it.


Let's hope that it becomes cheap and abundant enough to price corn ethanol out of the market.

Ferren MacIntyre

Woolsey's last sentence means he hasn't read Patzek's and Pimentel's papers. The difference is sustainability. Denmark is proud of using straw as biofuel. Straw is mostly cellulose and used to be burnt in situ. Burning at least returns mineral ash to the soil. Burning as a consistent policy eventually slowly lowers soil carbon. Patzek includes sustainability costs rather than only production costs.

In other words, there is a trade off between energy and soil productivity. Historically, we haven't paid much attention to soil productivity, because the soils of northern Europe, where we formed our attitudes, are the world's most resistant to degradation. Erosion is low, soils deep. We have lost about half of US topsoil to erosion in 200 years. This is by definition not sustainable use. Sustainability requires soil *formation* as fast as soil is lost. This means the return of more biomass to the soil that it is currently getting. More fallow, more green manures.

There is. incidentally, a fuel resource that no one is considering. There's enough excess human fat wobbling around the US to supply all our energy needs for 10 years. Involuntary lipsuction might just buy us enough time to implement some of these other ideas.

Pimentel's bottom line is that a population of 6 billion is not sustainable no matter how green and organic we get. Commercial marine biommass is 10% of what it was in 1500 AD. There is less agricultural land and less fossil water to work with. Sustaining 6 billion will require more energy input to agriculture than we have been willing to put in for the last century.

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The resolution was in accordance with a greenhouse gas reduction proposal from the National Commission on Energy Policy (NCEP).Seems USA gona to change itself in a ground of that all things call as industrial development or what else.

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