Underscoring biofuels investments in the farm bill and focusing on future developments in the arena of renewable policies, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Chairwoman of the Senate Ag Committee on Tuesday said that advanced, non-food based biofuels are "critical to growing our economy, creating jobs and lowering prices at the pump for consumers."
Stabenow, in leading a hearing on Capitol Hill invited stakeholders from several ethanol and ag industry groups to weigh in on the situation facing current biofuels investments and future growth toward advanced fuels.
In her own commentary, Stabenow said the farm bill, signed by President Obama in February, provided an energy title that farmers and businesses can use to increase production of energy from non-food sources. The provisions are also meant to boost rural economies and spur continued growth of U.S. energy sector that will reduce the need for foreign oil, she said.
"We've heard for years that advanced biofuels are just around the corner. Well, we're here. We're at the point where it's actually happening," Stabenow said. "American companies are creating jobs and growing rural economies while producing advanced biofuels, which ultimately help us become more energy independent and lower our gas prices at the pumps."
Stabenow cited an Iowa State University study which found that using ethanol reduced the cost of gas by 89 cents across the country, and by as much as $1.37 in the Midwest.
"These are enormous savings for American families," she said, explaining that in 2010, the U.S. consumed about 138 billion gallons of gasoline, equating to 446 gallons per person, or 892 gallons for a family of four.
"That family would have saved $794 in 2010 because of biofuels," she said. "According to USDA figures, that $794 comes out to be the cost of 2 to 5 weeks' worth of groceries."
Stabenow said if growth like that is to continue, policies must support it – including the Renewable Fuels Standard, a policy that determines the volume of mandated biofuels production, currently under review by the Environmental Protection Agency. Final volumes are expected later this spring.
Support for the RFS leads to advanced biofuels
National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson noted in released comments the connection between the RFS and developments in advanced biofuels. Policies to support ethanol growth, he explained, underpin the future of advanced biofuels.
"A stable, consistent corn ethanol policy is needed to transition the industry to advanced biofuels in the long-term," Johnson said. "The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must increase the 2014 RFS targets to statutory levels in order to give investors the policy certainty to finance the expansion of advanced biofuels."
Advanced biofuels, like cellulosic ethanol, have come under scrutiny as of late for slow development – and companies have not yet been able to meet the production goals under the RFS.
But DuPont Global Business Director for Biorefineries Jan Koninckx, who testified in the hearing, said the company's Iowa-based plant will soon be online, joining with two cellulosic plants that are scheduled for completion this year.
"When you look at this from the perspective of a science company – this has actually gone quite fast and interestingly by comparison, significantly faster than the fossil fuel industry developed over a century ago," Koninckx's testimony said. "The challenge before us was incredibly complex."
"The RFS2 is working as it was envisioned and the world is watching. We are delivering affordable clean fuels, to the envy of other countries," the testimony continued.
As cellulosic biofuels continue to ramp up, another witness at the hearing, Richard Childress, head of the NASCAR team Childress Racing, also testified to the support of the RFS, suggesting its continuation will improve investments in new technologies.
"The long-term certainty of the RFS has and continues to drive significant investment in the next generation of biofuels and new technologies both in ethanol production and in agriculture," Childress said during the hearing.
"By increasing yields, increasing efficiency, and deploying new technologies, ethanol and agriculture production continues to soften its footprint on the environment – particularly as fossil fuels like crude oil and natural gas become harder and harder to extract."
An archived webcast of the hearing on advanced biofuels can be viewed on the Senate Ag Committee's website.