The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) recently released a report, “Achieving Sustainable Production of Agricultural Biomass for Biorefinery Feedstock,” that addresses the question “Can American farmers feed the growing biofuel industry?” The report details the potential of cellulosic biomass as an energy resource and the promise of no-till cropping for greater residue collection. It also proposes guidelines and incentives to encourage farmers to produce, harvest and deliver sufficient feedstock to the growing biorefinery and biofuels industry in an economically and environmentally sustainable way.
“As we approach the Thanksgiving travel season, Americans should feel confident that U.S. farmers can produce both abundant supplies of food for people and animals and environmentally responsible biofuels for transportation,” said Jim Greenwood, president and CEO of BIO, which sponsored the report.
The report examines considerations for sustainable harvesting of agricultural residues – such as corn stover and cereal straws – expected to be the near-term feedstocks for biorefineries. It also discusses the expected economic benefits for individual farmers who invest in the practices and equipment needed for sustainable harvests of these feedstocks. It further points out the need for infrastructure to deliver feedstocks from farms to biorefineries.
James Hettenhaus of CEA Inc., author of the report, stated, “For the biofuel industry to expand, biorefinery operators must be confident that the supply chain for cellulosic feedstocks is robust, and farmers must be assured that they will benefit by adopting sustainable harvesting practices. As the biorefinery industry creates markets for crop residues, farmers will be more motivated to adopt practices that allow them to collect these residues while maintaining soil quality and controlling erosion. Recent successes have spurred an increase in adoption of no-till cultivation, but improved information is needed to convince farmers of the benefits.”
Brent Erickson, executive vice president of BIO’s Industrial & Environmental Section, said, “The high price of petroleum, government incentives to reduce dependence on imported oil, and growing efforts to address climate change have created a perfect storm for bio-based products, driving demand for alternative feedstocks for biofuels and chemicals and cleaner biotech-based production processes. Industrial biotechnology has enhanced the efficiency of biofuel production and made possible production of a range of polymers and chemicals from agricultural starting materials. The next challenge facing the biorefinery industry is producing, harvesting and delivering abundant feedstocks in an economically and environmentally sustainable fashion. This report begins to address that issue.”