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DOE seeks input on environmental impact of engineered high energy crops for fuels

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has issued a Request for Information (DE-FOA-0000908, RFI-0000003) regarding the potential environmental impacts of engineered high energy crops, such as those being investigated under the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy’s (ARPA-E) Plants Engineered to Replace Oil (PETRO) program (earlier post), and potential future DOE programs to support the development and demonstration of such crops through field trials.

Such crops could be the source of significant fuel resources from biological production DOE said, noting that therefore it is extremely important to understand their potential impact on the environment. DOE will consider responses to the RFI in the development of an Advance Notice of Intent (NOI) to prepare a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS), which would analyze the potential environmental impacts of such DOE programs.

Dedicated, engineered energy crops that produce more energy per acre and produce molecules that require little or no processing prior to being introduced into existing infrastructure (e.g., refineries, pipelines, and vehicles), would help enable agriculturally-derived fuels that are cost-competitive with petroleum-based fuels.

Examples of engineered high energy crops include those being investigated under ARPA-E’s PETRO program as well as other projects that have a similar objective of engineering crops for increased energy capture.

Among the specific questions in the RFI are:

  1. How do you define “engineered high energy crops?” What are examples of these crops that you think may emerge in the future? What characteristics do you think are desirable in an engineered high energy crop? What characteristics would be undesirable?

  2. Agriculture is regional. Should DOE focus its initial efforts on specific geographic regions for the first development of engineered high energy crops? If so, what are these regions?

  3. Are there specific engineered high energy crops that DOE should consider developing first in these geographic regions?

  4. Is it more appropriate to examine impacts of engineered high energy crops by ecoregion (areas characterized as similar due to the presence or absence of similar biotic and abiotic phenomena), or by a legal boundary such as a state or county? Are there other delineations that might be used to determine the regional impacts of such crops?

  5. What are the key concerns for the development and demonstration of engineered high energy crops? How could these concerns be mitigated? What are specific concerns regarding establishment of development-scale field trials (up to 5 acres)? What are specific concerns regarding establishment of medium-scale field trials (up to 100 acres)? What are specific concerns regarding establishment of demonstration-scale field trials (up to 15,000 acres)?

  6. What are the potential benefits (environmental, economic, etc.) from the development and demonstration of engineered high energy crops and are they dependent on the specific geography in which the crops are grown? Will these benefits be observed at a development scale (i.e., field trials up to 5 acres) or only at larger scale deployment?

  7. What specific agencies or organizations should DOE consider engaging with regarding an engineered high energy crop program? What specific concerns would these agencies or organizations be expected to address?

  8. What are examples of non-engineered high energy crops that you think may emerge in the future? What characteristics do you think are desirable in a non-engineered high energy crop? What characteristics would be undesirable? Provide examples of crops that you think should be included or excluded from this definition, and why.

Responses are due by 19 April 2013.

Comments

HarveyD

It would be a much smarter, cleaner and more effective idea, to capture solar energy directly, store it and distribute it to all users, than going through improved plants and bio-fuels.

A few more $$$$B invested into research and mass production of solar converters and large storage units could produce interesting long lasting results for future generations.

However, the world will soon have to increase existing land area productivity to feed a fast growing population and to counteract climate changes.

Lucas

People who spend some time here at Green Car Congress (GCC) are really smart and very well informed. I proposed we divide up these questions and answer them with what knowledge we already have stored in our brains. I'll take the first one to serve as an example of what I am trying to communicate.

Among the specific questions in the RFI are:

1. - How do you define “engineered high energy crops?” What are examples of these crops that you think may emerge in the future? What characteristics do you think are desirable in an engineered high energy crop? What characteristics would be undesirable?

Part 1 is really four questions. I will attempt to answer each. (Don't laugh.)

1.A - Farmers and ag stations have been engineering their crops for centuries. The process was very slow for obvious reasons. When the ability to manipulate genomes developed, great strides have followed. Basically, we have an established natural approach, taking advantage of natural mutations. It's possible that research into the causes of these mutations might permit us to engineer more highly developed and desirable oil producing crops. Of course, much effort is currently being expended on Geometrics. In time it will certainly payback.
1.B - Examples: For a rather long period of time, I was convinced that Algae was the way to go. I felt the potential for developing really significant production values were just around the corner. Time has passed with little progress, so now I'm not so optimistic. Whatever we decide to investigate, we are going to have to avoid converting our food resources to energy. The world is already slowly starving. How are we going to feed the 80 million being added to our world population every year? This still leaves us with a lot of marginal land. Much effort needs to be made to find and engineer energy crops adapted to these lands.
1.C – Energy stored by plants primarily comes from the Sun. Engineering plants to collect more sunlight and to convert it to stored energy, in easily accessible form, has a potential to improve plant based energy production.
1.D – Certainly it would be undesirable to use food plants or plants needing large amounts of water.

wintermane2000

No matter what people think nations that are very good at growing food will grow energy from food crops and this will expand in the coming decades.

Part of this will also be a result of massive increases in shipping costs rendering shipment of bulk food totally impossible likely by 2040 timeframe.

SJC

2. Agriculture is regional. Should DOE focus its initial efforts on specific geographic regions for the first development of engineered high energy crops? If so, what are these regions?

Concentrate on energy crops that can grow on pasture land. If you chose the right kinds, it will improve the pasture land which then becomes farmland. We expand the amount of land that can produce food over time and provide renewable energy.

Roger Pham

"Input on environmental impact of engineered high energy crops for fuels?"

My input would be: Don't do it!
Environmental impact would be too risky. Engineered plants can alter the ecological system in ways that are not predictable.
Just use arable land to make food to feed people and livestocks. Desert land can be used to collect solar energy that can be turned in to fuels. Wind turbines can be put on top of any farm land to collect energy to make fuel without disturbing the growth of crops. Use some of the agricultural waste biomass for fuel by adding renewable-energy H2 to it, while put back some of the biochar to the land as carbon sequestration.

HarveyD

I vote for RP.

Lucas

Wistful thinking Guys.

People with money are going to invest it in things that will make them the most money with the lowest risk.

A good example is T. Boone Pickins. It didn't take him long to come to understand that Wind is not a good investment so he quickly bailed out.

Don't pay any attention to what investors say. Pay attention to what they do.

Lucas

Come on Kit P.

Show us what comes off the top of your head on #4.

If you are going to play with the big boys, you can't substitute sarcasm for knowledge and understanding.

Kit P

@Lucas

“Show us what comes off the top of your head on #4. ”

Thought your answer on #1 was good and nice try elevating the tone of the discussion. Sorry I could not contribute but I try to contribute. Tell me what the energy crop is and I will contribute concerning processing the crop into energy.

HarveyD

Trying to grow enough feed stock to produce a meaningful percentage of the liquid fuel required for our 100B gas guzzlers has never been a very bright idea.

Future generations will have a good laugh when they read about it.

Capturing, storing and using solar and wind energy directly for a meaningful percentage of the coming 100+B electrified vehicles may be a much better idea.

wintermane2000

As always your math sucks.

Remember folks at the start we were importing 66% of our needs. 33% was local production.

N

wintermane2000

Grrr blasting thinjgy posted early.

Now we can safely assume 25-50% of our needs can be created via various biofuel techs over next 10-15 years.

That leaves between 16% on the low side and 41% on the high side left to replace to reach zero imports.

New extraction tech is greatly improving production AND new refineries are allowing us to use heavy and super heavy crude.. Both of thse allow us to reach zero and beyond and with bio allow it rather quickly.

And on top of all that bev/fcev and more eff fossil fueled cars allow even faster swing over to zero and beyond.

The result of all this is we should go zero this decade or early next.

Kit P

"Now we can safely assume 25-50%"

I do not want this guy making assumptions about my safety.

"And on top of all that bev/fcev"

What is that zero trending to 0.1%?

wintermane2000

Look the math is simple kit. We already produce a good amount of our fuel needs.. large enough that yes the tech we can bring to it will push us between 255 and half of our CURRENT fuel needs.

That combined with new fossil fuel sources AND with bev and fuel cell cars using other fuel sources... should push us to using no outside fossil fuels a lot sooner then most people think.

Kit P

@wintermane2000
Yes, the math is simple but you did not do any.

My objection is that you list significant sources with insignificant sources. Clearly we have improved mileage, and increased domestic and biomass production in the last ten years. The rest is at 0.001% trending to 0.002%.

An example of a rotational crop with wheat in semi-arid climates.

“Canola acreage in Mid-Columbia swells by 67 percent”

http://www.tri-cityherald.com/2013/04/20/2366160/canola-acreage-in-mid-columbia.html#storylink=cpy

wintermane2000

So your assuming combined that bev and fcev will be almost none of the car fleet in 10-15 years?

Kit P

"So your assuming ..."

Human nature being what it is, I am skeptical that few will buy them even if the engineering works out.

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