The United States can meet President Barack Obama’s goal of producing 36 billion gallons of biofuels by 2022, but it better get moving.
“I think we’re going to have to hustle,” Vilsack said during a phone interview Tuesday with the Daily Press.
The U.S. produced roughly 14 billion gallons of biofuels last year. The overwhelming majority was corn-based ethanol, an industry that benefited from a 30-year federal subsidy program that Congress let expire in December.
Vilsack expects the U.S. will eventually produce 15 billion gallons of corn-based ethanol, a target set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. But the rest will likely come from cellulosic ethanol, a biofuel produced from wood, grasses and non-edible parts of plants, he said.
Key to the growth of cellulosic biofuels is a $1 per gallon tax credit that is set to expire in 2012, Vilsack said.
According to a 2010 Agriculture Department report, the agency plans for the U.S. to produce 13.4 billion gallons of biofuels from grasses and sugars. The rest would come from oil seeds, crop residues and wood waste.
Researchers from Old Dominion and Virginia Commonwealth universities, as well as the College of William Mary, are also studying how to turn algae into biofuels. Bill Cooke, a William Mary physics professor helping lead the effort, said the research is far from complete but looks promising.
The push for more biofuels comes as other industries, such as commercial power companies, seek alternative fuel sources to comply with tougher pollution standards set by the Obama administration. For example, Dominion Virginia Power announced last year it would convert three coal-fired power plants to biomass.
Citing a Penn State University study that states the U.S. produces more than 1 billion tons of biomass a year, Vilsack said there is plenty to satisfy numerous industries. Environmental groups aren’t so sure.
The Southern Environmental Law Center is concerned that companies will start removing healthy trees from forests to meet demands that are expected to grow.