Sunday, June 06, 2010

Growing Biofuels Can Boost Rural Economies

Not all renewable energy strategies are as economically destructive and counter-productive as big wind and big solar. As we devise better ways of growing biomass and creating energy and fuels from biomass and bio-oils, we can bring about a renaissance of economic activity across large regions of rural North America.
[US Secretary of Agriculture]Vilsack says we need to build both the production and distribution systems for renewable fuels. “We’re working hard to get that long term commitment for the financial support. We want to figure out ways to make sure that we get the credit that is necessary to build these biorefineries and maintain them through tough times. We want to increase research and development in advanced biofuels and feedstocks and figure out how to do things more efficiently,” said Vilsack. _DomesticFuel

There is also an enormous opportunity for rural America as we dramatically increase the use of biofuels, ranging from corn ethanol to promising new technologies like cellulosic ethanol and other even more advanced forms of biofuel.

Our goal is to more than triple America’s biofuel production in the next twelve years, cutting oil imports by $41 billion. Instead of sending that $41 billion overseas, we can invest it right here in America. Instead of depending on oil fields in other countries, we’ll depend on farm fields in America’s heartland.

...The next logical step may be to produce ethanol using corn cobs and some of the corn stover. Emerging technologies will also derive celulosic ethanol from lumber and agricultural residues like wheat straw and rice straw.

We are also supporting the development of biofuels from perennial grasses like switchgrass or miscanthus, which can become major cash crops for farmers while providing the clean energy we need to wean ourselves away from foreign oil. Cultivating these grasses consumes much less fertilizer, tilling and other energy inputs, making them highly profitable to produce and then convert into fuel.

...These new technologies will supplement our existing capacity of corn and soy based biofuels. And with every step the technology advances, the opportunities for rural wealth creation grow. In fact, one study reports that upwards of 800,000 jobs can result from renewable fuels. It represents a win-win for America’s farmers as well as the planet.

...when it comes to biofuels, we have two clear competitive advantages. First, the American innovation machine is unrivalled. And second, our agricultural industry is the strongest, most productive on the planet. We can feed the world -- with enough capacity left over to provide much of the energy our economy needs.

In the process, we’ll not only cut our reliance on foreign oil, we’ll help reinvigorate rural economies across the country. _Secretary Chu and Secretary Vilsack DailyYonder

This trend is a useful counter to the centuries-old abandonment of rural heartlands for jobs in the city. Living in an active and vital city can present many opportunities, but urban life is not for everyone.

The emergence of bioenergy and biofuels offers rural and semi-rural opportunities for farmers, ranchers, foresters, engineers, technicians, craftsmen, construction workers, bankers, entrepreneurs, industrial specialists, bio-scientists and technicians, transportation workers, and a host of ancillary personnel.

It is the relatively low energy density of biomass which extends these opportunities across all portions of the North American continent -- because there is nowhere on land or sea (except perhaps in the polar areas) where life cannot take hold and prosper given the proper assistance.

Here is a Canadian effort to rejuvenate depressed economies with an algal biofuel project.

Other approaches utilise wood or grass biomass, or energy crops. It is perhaps ironic that technologies being developed in congested urban centers will be used to revitalise vast largely deserted areas of rural and semi-rural landscape.



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