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 starch...one 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