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USDA Report Provides Regional Roadmap To Meeting the Biofuels Goals of the Renewable Fuels Standard by 2022; Southeast to Provide ~50% of Advanced Biofuels

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a report outlining both the current state of renewable transportation fuels efforts in the US and a plan to develop regional strategies to increase the production, marketing and distribution of biofuels.

The report was intended to start compiling real world data to provide information on current production and consumption capacities as well projections indicating the size and scope of the investments necessary to achieve the 36 billion gallons of renewable biofuels mandated to be in the US fuel supply by 2022 through RFS2 (Renewable Fuel Standard 2). RFS2 becomes effective on 1 July 2010.

Assuming an average biorefinery size of 40 million gallons per year, USDA estimates it meeting the RFS2 advanced biofuels goals will mean building of 527 biorefineries, at a cost of $168 billion. While we expect the market to react to this need, biorefineries will need to be constructed in a timely manner, while accounting for transportation needs for feedstocks and fuel distribution.

—USDA Regional Roadmap

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:

  • Feedstock;
  • Sustainable production and management systems;
  • Efficient conversion technologies and high-value bioproducts; and
  • Decision support and policy analysis tools.

Among the specific conclusions of the report are:

  1. A rapid build-up in production capabilities is needed to meet the RFS2 targets for cellulosic biofuels.
  2. The scope of the monetary investment for biorefineries is substantial.
  3. It is important to consider both sides of the market—the production/supply side and mandate/consumption side—and how they respond to the RFS2 mandate.
  4. There are current infrastructure needs, in the form of blender pumps and rail and trucking infrastructure which are in varying stages of being addressed by the market, though a careful assessment of barriers to their development is needed.
  5. The US farm sector is capable of producing a diverse complement of feedstocks to make the biofuels industry a truly national effort.
  6. In addition, a process for identifying bottlenecks and barriers related to locating biorefineries involving the federal government, Congress, states, the industry and interested stakeholders can help facilitate a biorefinery system that is national in scope.

Corn ethanol. Of the 36 billion gallons, 15 billion gallons can come from conventional biofuel sources such as corn ethanol. In 2009, the United States produced 10.75 billion gallons of ethanol, primarily as corn starch ethanol. The expectation for 2010 is for the United States will produce approximately 12.0 billion gallons of ethanol.

According to the Renewable Fuel Association (RFA), there are currently 201 ethanol facilities with a capacity to produce 13.5 billion gallons. In addition, there are facilities currently under construction that will add another 1.2 billion gallons of capacity of corn starch ethanol. As a result, the United States will soon have the installed capacity to produce up to the 15.0 billion gallons of corn-starch ethanol that is allowed by RFS2, the report concludes.

Advanced biofuels. Of the remaining 21 billion gallons of advanced biofuels needed to achieve the total 36 billion gallon goal, 16 billion gallons is required to come from advanced cellulosic biofuels. The contribution of biomass-based diesel to the 21 billion gallon goal can be no less than 1 billion gallons and will be determined at a later date by rulemaking. An additional 4 billion gallons of advanced biofuels (defined by the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50%) by 2022 is also mandated.

Regional contributions. For the 20 billion gallons of advanced biofuels required by 2022 (leaving aside the 1 billion gallons of biomass-based diesel for the later rulemaking), USDA calculates the following regional contributions:

USDA Regional Roadmap
RegionStatesFeedstocksPotential production capacityLand use
Southeast and Hawaii Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas Soybean oil, Energy cane, Biomass Sorghum, Perennial grasses, Woody biomass 10.5 billion gallons of advanced biofuels per year (~50%). This region has the most robust growing season in the US that supports the highest gallons-per-acre crops of all biofuels crops. 9.5 million acres, 11.4% of the available cropland and cropland pasture acreage base.
Northeast Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia Woody biomass, municipal waste potential 2.0% (mostly woody biomass) 4.5% of the available cropland and cropland pasture acreage base.
Central East Delaware, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Virginia Perennial grasses, biomass sorghum, crop residues, soy beans, woody biomass 43.3%. This will take $72 billion in cumulative investments to build 226 biorefineries with an estimated capacity of 40 million gallons per year. 4.5% of the available cropland and cropland pasture acreage base
Northwest Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington Woody biomass, oil seed, grasses, cereal crop residue 4.6% (primarily oilseed crops). This will take an $8.32 billion investment to build 27 biorefineries with an average capacity of 40 million gallons per year. 6.9% of the available cropland and cropland pasture acreage base
Western Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming Woody biomass, Oilseed crops (e.g. camelina, canola); potential for algae not included. 0.3% (this is only for dedicated energy crops and woody biomass from logging waste). Commercial scale algae production is not included. While 64 million gallons from 49,800 acres of dedicated bioenergy crops plus 442,600 acres of harvested logging residue in a year (does not include potential from insect and disease damaged and dead trees that could be harvested) is a potential, it is not counted as part of the RFS2



The Goracle


"...potential for algae not included."

"Commercial scale algae production is not included."

Interesting that the government study/report excludes algae: the most promising of all currently available options. Welcome to government studies!

Lets now do a government study on gasoline production but not look at oil as a contributing factor.


Donough Shanahan

Algae fuels are still prohibitive expensive in both terms of cost and energy return on investment. That is why it is not included; the path is not there for them to compete.


This is based on almost 100% edible feedstock and is not an acceptable solution. Nobody should have to choose between feeding the gas guzzler or the stomach. If all other countries were to make the same mistake, some 20+% of the world would go hungry within 2 or 3 years.

This may look good but it is not a sustainable $500B solution.


This looks like something straight out of ADM and Monsanto's playbook - lobby up the ethanol, disregard the algae potential.
Algae has the greatest potential to vie with petroleum as a liquid fuel. Granted, it's still in the beginning phase, but it's proven useful in jetfuels and anything involving bulk transport. The problem with it right now is scalability, not cost. The cost is dropping rapidly and will soon be on par with petrol, but it's the volume needed which is the problem.
ADM and Monsanto know this and that's why they push ethanol. More corn and edible feedstocks used (soybeans, etc), the more money in their pocket.
Rotten bastards...

Bob Roze

Producing ethanol from corn and soybeans is a bad deal. It consumes petroleum, water, raises food prices, and it is not a long term, sustainable solution. But it keeps the agriculture industry/lobby happy, and it makes for a good sound bite for the politicians.

It is a slap in the face to include corn ethanol as a legitimate alternative energy solution. At most, it could be a short term way to decrease oil imports, but not worth it.


"there are currently 201 ethanol facilities with a capacity to produce 13.5 billion gallons."

This has to do with sunk costs as well as the farm lobby. If they can make cellulose preprocessing part of the front ends for these plants, we can get away from corn grain all together.

Chris Jensen

The EPA has refused to rule on the ethanol blend wall. Currently the EPA limits all fuel sold (exception of e85) to have a maximum of 10% ethanol. We are about 10% now with only corn ethanol. Nobody in their right mind will invest in cellulosic ethanol if there is no market to sell it. We need E15 and E30 to be approved by the EPA. Otherwise 2nd gen bio fuels are dead.

Gotta love how the Gvmt demands that we make it and then tells us that we are not allowed to use it.


They could use the increased production in E85 pumps. At present there are less than 2000 of them out of 200,000 and most of them are in the mid west. Most of the 8 million FFVs now on the road do not run E85 and lack of availability is not helping.

fred schumacher

You work with the infrastructure you have, not the one you wish you had.

Algae biofuel production is so complex and capital intensive, it has more similarities to a chemical plant than farming. Algae biofuel production will be done by oil companies, not farmers, who, in general, do not have the megadollar cash flow industrial scale algae production requires.

It appears from the above table that the corn, soybean, wheat, and southern pine belts will be doing the heavy lifting on biofuel production. The rest of the country is virtually irrelevant.

Missing from the discussion on biofuels is the recognition that non-food biomass converted to ethanol production feedstock has been turned into food. Cellulose is, after all, a long-chain polymer of glucose molecules, the sugar our bodies use at the cellular level.

Presently, we primarily depend on annual plants to synthesize nutrients and concentrate them in a seedhead or tuber. Annuals are high maintenance, high disturbance, high fertility demanding plants. Perennials are low maintenance, low fertility plants that outproduce annuals on total biomass. The same technology used to produce biofuel from perennials could be providing us with food, resulting in higher food production with less input on fewer acres.

I also wonder whether the USDA took into account the effect of phenologically induced sterility in perennial grass biomass yields. A winterhardy perennial cultivar, like switchgrass, can be moved far north of its latitude of origin. Since phenology is over 90% correlated with total accumulated heat units, measured in growing-degree days, a southern cultivar will not reach sexual maturity in the north, allowing the plant under the long northern days, to continue vegetative production, resulting in much higher biomass yields.


FFV/M85/HEVs can go a long way towards reducing oil imports.
We do go with what we have and not with what we wish we had. Methanol made from natural gas and biomass distributed nationally could reduce oil imports in a few years.

When I look at the FFVs available, most are large vehicles that want to offset CAFE regulations. The one exceptions is the 2010 Buick LeCross, but if there are no M85 fuel pumps, then it is just a possibility and not a reality.


The LaCrosse may only be FFV in the 3.9l V6. At any rate, there are cars that are FFV, but it is only on some models as an option. We are not going to reduce oil imports much when few cars are FFV and there is no M85 out there.


It is sad to see all the efforts and financial resources being used to try to perpetuate the use of inefficient ICE equipped vehicles.


It is a lot easier and more cost effective to have all new cars FFV than to try and replace 100 million cars in 10 years with EVs. There are dreamers and there are practical people and practical people usually come up with something that works and CAN happen.


And we could easily add another 436+ low cost proven coal fired power plants (in USA) to reduce e-energy cost and STOP crying when China and India are doing the same. We all know that it WORKS and CAN happen. Using lower grade cheaper coal CAN do it even better. Secondly, no change of attitude is required because are are already doing it on a very large scale.

FFV is just a bandage to extend the use of polluting inefficient ICE equipped vehicles and not have to develop new cleaner technologies and keep our addiction to liquid fuels intact. We must keep farm lobbies, oil firms, the Big-3 (etc) happy.

Unfortunately, to keep using up to 20 M/barrels of liquid fuels a day is not the best way to survive and compete in the future. Progressive electrification of ground vehicles ++ (over 2 to 4 decades) and the introduction of clean e-energy power plants and updated power distribution networks could help our failing economy while cleaning up the environment. The era of ICE vehicles is closer to the end every day.


If nothing is done, which has been the pattern the last 30 years, in 2020 we will be using 24 million barrels of oil each day, importing 3/4 of it and exporting $700 billion each year for it.

We either go with what will work the next 10 years or say we should all electrify transportation and nothing happens. EVs will be lucky to be 1% of the vehicles on the road the next 10 years. With 100 million FFVs running M85 or M100 with heated fuel injectors, we can reduce oil imports at very little additional cost.

Some would say that would stall the transition to EVs, I do not believe that is true. The false "logic" would say do not do FFVs because we want all EVs, then 10 years from now we have 1% EVs instead of 50% FFVs running methanol. The FFV route will reduce imported oil much more at a much lower cost.


Is using 50+% of the local farm lands to produce higher cost locally produced liquid fuels better for the USA economy than using much lower cost imported fossil crude oil? From an environmental point of view both solutions may be much the same. The main difference may be the effect on food price. When more than 50% of the national farm land is used to produce liquid fuels, food price may go as high as 4x current level. That would quickly provoke a long lasting economic down turn because all the available family budget would have to go for lodging and food. Most will choose buying high price food (to feed the family) instead of locally produced liquid fuel. The gas guzzlers will stay in the garage.

If we want our cake and eat it, we have to progressively (over 2 to 3 decades) transition away from liquid fuel vehicles in favor of electrified vehicles using locally produced clean electricity. HEVs and PHEVs are necessary transition steps for the next 10-15 years or until such times as improved lower cost batteries become a reality for affordable longer e-range BEVs. Oil imports would progressively go down, specially if the introduction of electrified vehicles is promoted aggressively. Our productive farm lands could produce almost enough to offset some of the cost of imported crude oil. Surpluses, if any, could be used to produce liquid fuels and to keep prices high enough to please the farm lobbies.

An acceptable compromise may be to produce just enough ethanol to meet 10% to 20% of the national demand for liquid fuel. To drastically reduce liquid fuel consumption with higher efficiency (50+ mpg) ICE vehicles, HEVs, PHEVs and BEVs. To use NG for many large gas guzzlers. To build more fuel efficient commercial airplanes. To build light and very light electric airplanes for fun (pleasure) flying. To progressively ban noisy polluting ICE pleasure boats from lakes and replace them with quiet clean running electric units, etc.

We would all be better off without ICE equipped machines.


20-30 years from now, lots of things may be possible, but what do we do between now and then? 30 years ago, we had our second oil embargo shock. CAFE was implemented and mileage went up and then nothing much was done between 1985-2005. It was one thing to project what the future will be, it is more accurate to look at what was and then project from there.

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