With the final rules published by USDA this week in the Federal Register, the revised Biomass Crop Assistance Program, or BCAP, is now set to offer farmers and forestland owners matching payments. These payments can be to either establish and produce non-food energy feedstock crops, like wood chips, crop residues, switchgrass, woody plants, algae and animal and food waste, or to gather and transport these feedstocks to designated biorefineries.
The BCAP program is a critical step in meeting a revised Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2) imposed by the federal Energy Act of 2007, which calls for 21 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol to be included in our nation's transportation fuel mix by the year 2022, says John Whitaker, state executive director for USDA's Farm Service Agency in Iowa.
BCAP is needed to help get cellulosic ethanol industry started
This year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reduced from 100 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol to 6.5 million gallons the amount required to be used according to the RFS2. That indicates the importance of the BCAP program in jump-starting cellulosic ethanol production, which is a key component of the U.S. clean energy transportation fuels strategy. BCAP is needed to help get the cellulosic ethanol industry started, says Whitaker. The BCAP program aims to insure a supply of non-food (non grain) feedstocks to use to make ethanol, as the alternative fuels industry moves to a second generation of biofuels.
One hurdle faced by the $461 million BCAP program is an expiration date of 2012 when Congress must renew it. The uncertainty has led USDA to predict that a relatively small number of acres will grow cellulosic energy crops such as switchgrass or corn stover or cobs to be harvested as a feedstock for cellulosic ethanol production during the next two years.
Nonetheless, ethanol manufacturers are heartened by a loan program that will help pay for new cellulosic biorefineries around the country. And several companies are asking for U.S. Department of Energy designation of their facilities as cellulosic ethanol plants that are eligible under the RFS2 to receive BCAP money to pay area farmers to grow, gather or transport feedstock to their plants. For more on BCAP, click HERE.