Skip to main content

Energy Secretary Bodman on Biofuels

U.S. DOE Secretary Samuel Bodman spoke at DOE's Biomass Conference on April 18. In his prepared remarks the Secretary acknowledged concerns about corn-based ethanol and the importance of developing the "next generation" of ethanol made from biomass products that are outside the food chain:
In all areas of our research and development, the impact on our global environment – including the impact of energy diversification on land and water resources and world food supplies – is an important part of the discussion. And it is an important consideration in our technical research. This has absolutely been the case when it comes to biofuels.

We’ve looked at the research and we’ve concluded that a diverse, sustainable set of biofuels-technologies will measurably improve our energy security and the health of our environment.

But to do this we must develop, produce, deliver and consume biofuels in an intelligent way and with an urgent focus on sustainability.

So, as we pursue diversity in our overall energy mix we must also pursue diversity in our biofuels. This means moving away gradually from ethanol produced from food stocks like corn.

Let me be clear: I am not minimizing the importance of ethanol made from corn - it is critical to our energy security and America’s farmers make an important contribution to our energy security.

But what I am saying is that we need to develop and deploy the next generation of ethanol - ethanol and other products made from biomass products that are outside the food chain.

In my view, this means cellulosic fuels made from agricultural waste products and crops like switchgrass, which can be grown and regenerated on less desirable lands.
The Wall Street Journal's Environmental Capital blog describes Secretary Bodman's remarks as "astride the fence", midway between the view of some U.N. officials that producing biofuels is a "crime against humanity" and the view of Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva that denying the developing world alternative fuels would be the real crime.

From our point of view, Secretary Bodman is right to focus on diversity in energy supply and to recognize that energy and environmental policies are inextricably linked. The Wall Street Journal's Environmental Capital blog reminds us that both are also linked to economic policy. That's why we favor producing copious amounts of reliable baseload electricity from an inedible, incombustible rock - uranium.

Comments

Sherry Moore said…
I think Secretary Bodman's remarks are right on track. I am please to see officials recognizing that food based crops used for biofuels are affecting our food supplies. For a safe food supply we must bring our food sources back home rather than depending on unregulated sources outside our country.
Anonymous said…
Another important point on ethanol (from corn or cellulose)is that a large amount of low-pressure steam is needed to distill it. Today this comes from burning natural gas. In the future this steam could come from nuclear plants that would co-generate electricity and steam. Current corn ethanol has a very small net energy benefit, and using nuclear steam would roughly double the energy benefit.

Popular posts from this blog

How Nanomaterials Can Make Nuclear Reactors Safer and More Efficient

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior communications advisor at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

From the batteries in our cell phones to the clothes on our backs, "nanomaterials" that are designed molecule by molecule are working their way into our economy and our lives. Now there’s some promising work on new materials for nuclear reactors.

Reactors are a tough environment. The sub atomic particles that sustain the chain reaction, neutrons, are great for splitting additional uranium atoms, but not all of them hit a uranium atom; some of them end up in various metal components of the reactor. The metal is usually a crystalline structure, meaning it is as orderly as a ladder or a sheet of graph paper, but the neutrons rearrange the atoms, leaving some infinitesimal voids in the structure and some areas of extra density. The components literally grow, getting longer and thicker. The phenomenon is well understood and designers compensate for it with a …

Why America Needs the MOX Facility

If Isaiah had been a nuclear engineer, he’d have loved this project. And the Trump Administration should too, despite the proposal to eliminate it in the FY 2018 budget.

The project is a massive factory near Aiken, S.C., that will take plutonium from the government’s arsenal and turn it into fuel for civilian power reactors. The plutonium, made by the United States during the Cold War in a competition with the Soviet Union, is now surplus, and the United States and the Russian Federation jointly agreed to reduce their stocks, to reduce the chance of its use in weapons. Over two thousand construction workers, technicians and engineers are at work to enable the transformation.

Carrying Isaiah’s “swords into plowshares” vision into the nuclear field did not originate with plutonium. In 1993, the United States and Russia began a 20-year program to take weapons-grade uranium out of the Russian inventory, dilute it to levels appropriate for civilian power plants, and then use it to produce…

Nuclear Is a Long-Term Investment for Ohio that Will Pay Big

With 50 different state legislative calendars, more than half of them adjourn by June, and those still in session throughout the year usually take a recess in the summer. So springtime is prime time for state legislative activity. In the next few weeks, legislatures are hosting hearings and calling for votes on bills that have been battered back and forth in the capital halls.

On Tuesday, The Ohio Public Utilities Committee hosted its third round of hearings on the Zero Emissions Nuclear Resources Program, House Bill 178, and NEI’s Maria Korsnick testified before a jam-packed room of legislators.


Washingtonians parachuting into state debates can be a tricky platform, but in this case, Maria’s remarks provided national perspective that put the Ohio conundrum into context. At the heart of this debate is the impact nuclear plants have on local jobs and the local economy, and that nuclear assets should be viewed as “long-term investments” for the state. Of course, clean air and electrons …