Iowa Biodeisel Maker Counters Tax Group Argument

westerndubuque1A biodiesel producer is disputing claims by a taxpayer watchdog group that says producers of biofuels shouldn’t still be getting government assistance. This article in the Dubuque (IA) Telegraph Herald says a report by Taxpayers for Common Sense shows that Western Dubuque Biodiesel in Farley, Iowa received more than $2.5 million in tax-funded assistance between 2009 and 2014, and the group pushes for the elimination of the bioenergy program in the federal farm bill. But Tom Brooks, general manager of Western Dubuque Biodiesel points to the good biodiesel has done in Iowa alone, producing 230 million gallons of fuel in 2013 and more than 7,000 jobs in the state.

Brooks said the government assistance is necessary to level the playing field with oil companies.

“Government has always had a hand in to help starting industries. Big Oil has had a hand up for over 100 years to the tune of several hundred billion dollars in tax supports that they still draw today,” Brooks said.

The watchdog report also makes a point of highlighting large agribusinesses that are benefiting from government assistance. Companies like Renewable Energy Group, Louis Dreyfus and Cargill received roughly $10 million each or more between 2009 and 2014, the report says.

Brooks said it is unfair to lump Western Dubuque Biodiesel in with those companies.

“I’m in the big, booming metropolis of Farley,” Brooks joked. “The (report) suggests we’re paying all these big companies. The vast majority of these producers are small.”

The article goes on to say that Brooks argues the report doesn’t take into account the savings for the country when biofuels reduce the dependence on foreign oil.

“What’s the cost to our taxpayers for those soldiers in Afghanistan and the Middle East? For every gallon of oil we buy not from the U.S., you’re giving to a foreign country’s economy and they may not exactly share our political values, let alone our moral values,” Brooks said.

$14.5M in Bioenergy, Biomass Funding From USDA

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development (RD) has announced up to $14.5 million in funding to two program funding through the 2014 Farm Bill. RD is accepting applications for companies seeking to offset the costs associated with converting fossil fuel systems to renewable biomass fuel systems. USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is offering $2.5 million in grants designed to improve national energy security through the development of bio-based transportation fuels (biodiesel or ethanol, etc.) biopower and new bio-based products.

USDA Biomass Energy MapAs part of the programs, the USDA is also offering assistance to individuals, or companies interested in starting a bio-energy business called the Bioeconomy Tool Shed. The Tool Shed is a free portal offering users access to a complement of web-based tools and information, statistical data and other resources related to the sustainable production and conversion of biomass into products and fuel, a process often referred to as the bioeconomy.

“These USDA investments are part of the Obama Administration’s ‘all-of-the-above’ energy strategy, and they benefit our economy as well as the environment,” said Tom Vilsack, USDA Ag Secretary. “USDA’s support for bio-based technologies is good for the climate, and enhances rural economic development while it decreases our dependence on foreign sources of oil. These and other USDA efforts will create new products out of homegrown agriculture from this and future generations of American farmers and foresters.”

USDA plans to make up to $12 million in payments for eligible biorefineries through RD’s Repowering Assistance Program, which was reauthorized by the 2014 Farm Bill. Biorefineries in existence on or before June 18, 2008 are eligible for payments to replace fossil fuels used to produce heat or power with renewable biomass. Since President Obama took office, USDA has provided $6.9 million to help biorefineries transition from fossil fuels to renewable biomass systems. Applications, deadlines and details will be published in the Federal Register on Monday, June 16, 2014.

USDA is also seeking applications for NIFA’s Sun Grants program that encourages bioenergy and biomass research collaboration between government agencies, land-grant colleges and universities, and the private sector. Congress authorized the Sun Grant program in the 2008 Farm Bill and reauthorized the program in 2014. The program provides grants to five grant centers and one subcenter, which then will make competitive grants to projects that contribute to research, education and outreach for the regional production and sustainability of possible biobased feedstocks. The project period will not exceed five years.

Renewable Energy Takes Hit in Farm Bill Funding

USCapitolFunding for some rural renewable energy programs is taking a hit. Ethanol Producer Magazine reports the House Appropriations Committee cut the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) down to just $15 million, down from last year’s levels of $25 million, and Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) for fiscal year 2015 is proposed to be funded at just $30 million, down for 2014′s $50 million in mandatory funding and $20 million in discretionary funding for FY 2015. Meanwhile, the Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance program is cut to $22 million, a major drop from previous levels of $50 million in mandatory FY 2015 funding, with an additional $75 million in discretionary funding for FY 2015.

The Agriculture Energy Coalition (AgEC) has released a statement in response to the draft bill, vowing to fight the changes to the Farm Bill’s popular energy programs. “The renewable energy and energy efficiency programs in the Farm Bill help rural America create new biobased manufacturing opportunities and stable, well-paying jobs,” said Lloyd Ritter, codirect of the AgEC .”The Energy Title programs were reauthorized in the five-year Farm Bill adopted by Congress just months ago, in February 2014, and received mandatory funding to allow for program stability and business certainty. The modest investments made through that bill would pay major dividends for energy security, economic growth, and environmental gains across the United States.”

“Just today, however, the House Appropriations Committee sought to roll back the Farm Bill, by targeting the successful energy title programs for changes in mandatory spending and blocking the USDA’s ability to administer them,” Ritter continued. “The Agriculture Energy Coalition, which comprises a broad group of renewable energy, energy efficiency and agricultural groups, will continue to fight to ensure that these programs are implemented properly.”

You can read the full draft of the legislation here.

NASCAR Leader Testifies for Biofuels

The Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing this week on advanced biofuels. Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow of Michigan says advanced biofuels are here now, and they are an important part of the energy title in the recently passed farm bill.

“The Energy Title funds critical programs that helps our farmers produce energy from non-food sources and helps companies get low-interest loans for those facilities, and of course, all that creates jobs,” Stabenow said, adding that to continue to grow the industry, there needs to be policies that support it. She said passing the Farm Bill was a strong first step toward to that goal. “Now we need to provide certainty through a strong Renewable Fuels Standard and tax credits to support long-term investments in our energy future.” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Senate Agriculture Committee

childress-testOne of the witnesses at the hearing was NASCAR team owner Richard Childress who talked about the many benefits of corn-based biofuels, such as the higher fuel performance he has seen in more than five million miles of racing since the E15 ethanol blend was introduced in the 2011 racing season.

“When they decided to go with an ethanol-blend of fuel, in 2010, NASCAR started looking at what was the correct blend to use. After many tests, they came up with E15,” Childress said, pointing out that his own racing team tested up to E30 blends, which he believes would be even better. “Nothing but positive results came out of our tests. Engines ran cooler, ethanol makes more octane so it makes more horsepower, less carbon buildup, better emissions, and our parts when we tore the engines down looked much better.” NASCAR team owner Richard Childress at biofuels hearing

Hemp-to-Biofuels Research Gets Green Light

vote-hempA crop that has had an undeserved stigma attached to it could now become a source for biodiesel and ethanol. The recently passed and signed Farm Bill contains a provision that would allow hemp to be grown for research purposes, including making it into the green fuels.

“Hemp is a great crop for biodiesel, and we’ve already started experimenting with [cellulosic ethanol made from hemp],” explained Ben Droz with Vote Hemp, a group trying revitalize industrial hemp production in the U.S., at last week’s National Agriculture Day in Washington, D.C. He pointed out that hemp goes back a long ways in this country’s history, including being grown by the Founding Fathers and the founder of our modern automobile industry. “Henry Ford was actually doing research on hemp fuels and hemp biocomposites. And now today we are looking back to see if we can grow hemp once again.”

Ben said the Farm Bill defined industrial hemp, not to be confused with marijuana despite its similar appearance, as having 3/10 of a percent or less of THC – the active ingredient in the drug. Even if you smoked a hemp joint the size of a telephone pole, Ben said you still wouldn’t get high. But it’s only legal to do the research at universities and state ag departments in the 10 states where hemp is already legal to grow. He’s hoping that positive results in those locations will allow the effort to go nationwide.

“Those results will then encourage lawmakers to change the law so farmers can grow this profitable crop. There’s literally thousands of uses for hemp.”

Listen to all of Cindy’s conversation with Ben here: Interview with Ben Droz, Vote Hemp

2014 Ag Day Photo Album

DF Cast: Lawmakers Listening to Ethanol Advocates

Ethanol backers got their voices heard during the recent American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) Biofuels Beltway March in Washington, D.C. And at least some lawmakers were listening.

In this edition of the Domestic Fuel Cast, we talk to Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL), Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE), and Sen. John Thune (R-SD), who met with ACE and its supporters and all expressed their backing of efforts to keep renewable fuels, especially ethanol, in the forefront of federal policies.

Listen to what they had to say after they listened to ACE: Domestic Fuel Cast - Lawmakers Meet with Ethanol Advocates

You can also subscribe to the DomesticFuel Cast here.

2014 ACE Biofuels Beltway March photo album

Coverage is sponsored in part by Patriot Renewable Fuels

Farm Bill Boosts Biodiesel-based Bioheat

us-capitol-fiscal-cliff-voteOne of the big winners in the recent passage of the $1 trillion Farm Bill was the reauthorization of the National Oilheat Research Alliance (NORA) and the biodiesel-based heating fuel, Bioheat. This article from Biodiesel Magazine says the five-year extension of the program will boost Bioheat in this country.

The new bill encourages greater research on Bioheat with the goal of moving up the percentages of biodiesel in heating oil.

“When NORA was founded in 2000, the product was almost nonexistent,” said John Huber, NORA CEO. “But through a partnership between NORA and the National Biodiesel Board, we have moved this into a product used by nearly every heating oil retailer at concentrations between 5 and 20 percent. We expect those percentages to continue to grow as the biodiesel industry continues to provide a compelling product to our industry.”

The organization’s executive committee and board of directors will work diligently to integrate those changes into the program. Most importantly, there will be an increased emphasis on research and development. This additional research will pave the way for a better product for the heating oil consumer—a product that will be more efficient and more dependable.

The article goes on to say that NORA and the biodiesel industry have worked closely to expand the use of Bioheat in home heating oil markets.

Both Farm Bill and RFS Important

Signing the new farm bill into law on Friday, President Obama commented that the legislation “supports businesses working to develop cutting edge biofuels” which have the “potential to create jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.” The president also announced a new “Made in Rural America” export and investment initiative “to help more rural businesses expand and hire and sell more products.”

RFA-logo-13In response, Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) president Bob Dinneen noted the great economic benefit biofuels production has brought to rural America. “Under the Renewable Fuel Standard, the U.S. ethanol industry created and supported over 386,000 jobs in the past year,” said Dinneen. “To build on the success of the Farm Bill, we call on President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency to protect the RFS and restore the 2014 conventional ethanol requirement to its statutory level.”

During a press call about the benefits of the farm bill for bioenergy, Matt Carr with the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), also pointed out the importance of the RFS. “The Renewable Fuel Standard is really the fundamental policy foundation for the growth of the advanced biofuels industry,” said Carr, noting that BIO submitted comments to EPA regarding the proposal to lower the volume requirements under the law. “That proposal puts at serious risk the investment (our members) have made in advanced biofuels projects.”

“We like to say that the farm bill policy as well as the tax code work hand in hand with the RFS to help accelerate the adoption and deployment of advanced biofuels,” Carr added.

President Signs Farm Bill

President Barack Obama traveled to Michigan State University to sign the Agricultural Act of 2014 at the alma mater of Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).

fb-signing“Despite its name, the farm bill is not just about helping farmers,” President Obama told the small crowd invited for the signing. “Secretary Vilsack calls it a jobs bill, an innovation bill, an infrastructure bill, a research bill, a conservation bill. It’s like a Swiss Army knife.”

The president also gave a shout out to biofuels production in Michigan in his address prior to the bill signing. “I just got a tour of a facility where you’re working with local businesses to produce renewable fuels,” said Obama. “This bill supports businesses working to develop cutting edge biofuels, like some of the work being done here at Michigan State.”

Listen to the president’s speech here: President Obama farm bill signing

What do you think of the new farm bill? Which part is most important to you? Tell us in this week’s ZimmPoll.

What do You Like in New Farm Bill

New Holland ZimmPollBefore we get to our new ZimmPoll let’s look at our latest one which asked the question, “Could drones (UAV’s) serve a purpose on your operation?”

Well over half of the voters this week said that drones could in fact serve a purpose on their operation. Price is still a factor and may be the reason that some operations would not use them yet. We’re going to see a lot more about this new technology since predictions have been made that eighty percent of the multi-million dollar market will be for agricultural use. I’m sure you can think of a number of applications these devices will have in the production of renewable fuels.

Our poll results:

  • Yes, if affordable – 50%
  • No – 18%
  • Yes, at any price – 14%
  • No, worried about privacy – 14%
  • What are they? – 5%

Our new ZimmPoll is now live and asks the question, “What’s best in the new farm bill?”

The Senate finally passed its version of a conference bill Jan. 29, and now the farm bill goes to President Obama’s desk. As you can read on Senator Debbie Stabenow’s website: “This isn’t your father’s Farm Bill. It is a bill for our future that grows our agriculture economy, helps provide greater access to healthy Michigan-grown foods, preserves our land and water, and cuts unnecessary spending. The Farm Bill is a rare example of a major bipartisan jobs bill and a bipartisan deficit reduction bill,” Chairwoman Stabenow said. Have you had the chance to review the new bill? Let us know what you think is the best part.

We Have A Farm Bill!

baby-farm-billToday the U.S. Senate voted 68-32 to pass the 2014 farm bill after years of work by both Agriculture Committees. The House passed its version of a conference bill Jan. 29, and now the farm bill goes to President Obama’s desk.

The President is expected to sign the bill into law. The Agricultural Act of 2014 expands bio-energy production, supporting non-food based advanced biomass energy production such as cellulosic ethanol and woody biomass power. Specifically, the new Farm Bill funds biomass initiatives for the next five years:

  • Bio-Based Markets for $3 million per year
  • Biomass Research and Development for $3 million per year
  • Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical and Bio-Based Product Manufacturing Assistance Program for $100 million in 2014 and $50 million in 2015 and 2016
  • Biomass Crop Assistance Program for $25 million per year
  • Bioenergy for Advanced Biofuels for $15 million per year

“America’s farmers are core to the innovation that’s driven down our dependence on foreign oil – and this policy will keep them doing it, said Adam Monroe, regional president of the Americas for Novozymes, a global leader in bioenzyme production. There’s already enough concern about energy policy in America with EPA’s proposed revisions to the Renewable Fuel Standard. It’s a power sign to see policy certainty surrounding the energy programs in the farm bill. We thank Congress for taking action and we urge President Obama to swiftly sign it.

Growth Energy is also supportive of the Farm Bill with CEO Tom Buis commenting, “This legislation will encourage further development in biofuels by continuing to fund essential programs such as the Biorefinery Assistance Program, Rural Energy for America Program and Biomass Crop Assistance Program.

“The bottom line is that this bill helps create jobs in rural America and advances first and next generation biofuel production that will help improve our environment and reduce our dangerous addiction to foreign oil.

Farm Bill Compromise Includes $881 Mil for Energy

us-capitol-fiscal-cliff-voteA compromise Farm Bill agreed upon by U.S. Senate and House negotiators will set aside about $881 million in its Energy Title portion. The deal on the $500 billion Agricultural Act of 2014 gained praise from the Agriculture Energy Coalition (AgEC), a consortium of organizations and companies representing a broad spectrum of renewable energy, energy efficiency and bioproducts stakeholders.

Lloyd Ritter, co-director of the AgEC, said, “Today’s conference report will continue the Farm Bill’s support for economic growth and development in rural America. Renewable energy and energy efficiency programs support new manufacturing and stable, well-paying jobs. Expansion of the programs will enable renewable chemical technologies to create new manufacturing opportunities and jobs. These very modest investments make major energy security, economic, and environmental benefits happen across the entire United States.

“The programs help grow the rural economy by opening access to critical project capital, ensuring that investments continue to be made in agriculture energy development.”

Some of the benefactors from this legislation include the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, partnering with hundreds of farmers across the country to develop sustainable new biofuels; the Biorefinery Assistance Program, supporting advanced biofuels by assisting U.S. companies secure more than $450 million in private capital for innovative advanced biofuel projects; and the Renewable Energy for America Program (REAP) that helps support renewable energy jobs in rural parts of the country.

The bill must still pass the full House and Senate, but the bipartisan compromise is seen as very positive step toward full passage.

Beetle-Infested Trees to be Turned into Biofuel

usda-logoTrees lost to beetle infestations might not be a total loss; they could be turned into biofuels. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) awarded nearly $10 million in grants to a consortium of academic, industry and government organizations led by Colorado State University (CSU) to see if insect-killed trees in the Rocky Mountains could be a sustainable feedstock for bioenergy.

“Infestations of pine and spruce bark beetles have impacted over 42 million acres of U.S. forests since 1996, and a changing climate threatens to expand the threat from bark beetle on our forest lands,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “As we take steps to fight the bark beetle, this innovative research will help take the biomass that results from bark beetle infestation and create clean, renewable energy that holds potential for job creation and promises a cleaner future for America.”

There are many benefits to using beetle-killed wood for renewable fuel production. It requires no cultivation, circumvents food-versus-fuel concerns and likely has a highly favorable carbon balance. However, there are some challenges that have been a barrier to its widespread use. The wood is typically located far from urban industrial centers, often in relatively inaccessible areas with challenging topography, which increases harvest and transportation costs. In addition to technical barriers, environmental impacts, social issues and local policy constraints to using beetle-killed wood and other forest residues remain largely unexplored.

CSU researchers, together with other scientists from universities, government and private industry in the region, created the Bioenergy Alliance Network of the Rockies (BANR) to address these challenges. The project will undertake comprehensive economic, environmental and social/policy assessment, and integrate research results into a web-based, user-friendly decision support system. CSU will collaborate with partners across four states to complete the project. Partners include: University of Idaho, University of Montana, Montana State University and the University of Wyoming, U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, National Renewable Energy Lab and Cool Planet Energy Systems.

The release goes on to say that they are exploring recent advances in scalable thermochemical conversion technologies to produce advanced liquid biofuel and co-products on-site.

Vilsack also points out that this type of program highlights why a new farm bill is needed.

Energy Title “Vital” in Farm Bill

More than 40 bipartisan House and Senate members including Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Representatives Dave Loebsack (D-2-IA) and Aaron Schock (R-18-IL), sent “Dear Colleague” letters to Farm Bill Conference leaders stressing the vital importance of the energy title (Title IX). In response, the Agriculture Energy Coalition (AgEC) praised the legislator’s letter of support.

Farm in Wisconsin“The energy title is critically important to helping rural areas move towards diverse renewable energy and energy efficiency opportunities including wind, solar, biomass, biogas, efficiency upgrades, and hydro in all 50 states,” said Congressman Dave Loebsack on the Farm Bill’s Energy Title. “These programs are also helping our agricultural producers and rural economies be more efficient and adding value to things like farm waste for energy production. They also are critically important to continue to develop cutting edge advanced biofuels that will create jobs here at home and help our nation become more energy secure for use in everything from cars and trucks, to planes and our military.”

The letters continued by saying “REAP, BCAP and BAP are just three examples of energy title programs that are helping our nation utilize our rich agricultural capacity to produce reliable domestic energy. American farmers have long led the world in food crop production, but as we seek to become more energy independent and less reliant on foreign sources of energy to power our economy, ag-based energy products are increasingly important; energy title programs significantly enhance the development of our nation’s clean energy and agriculture economy.”

Lloyd Ritter, co-director of the Agriculture Energy Coalition (AgEC), said of the letters of support, “We would like to extend thanks to the more than 40 Senators and Representatives who expressed their support for vital Farm Bill Energy programs. We especially thank Senators Klobuchar and Blunt, along with Representatives Loebsack and Shock, for their leadership. These Farm Bill energy programs have supported renewable energy development and energy efficiency in rural communities and have helped create or save thousands of good paying jobs. The continued success of these programs requires the long term sustainability of a five year Farm Bill and the necessary investment to maintain healthy programs.”

Vilsack Says Congress Only Works During Crisis

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was in Ames, Iowa this week and while there gave remarks during the Iowa Farm Bureau’s (#IFBF13) 2013 Economic Summit. The standing room only crowd wanted to hear what Vilsack would say regarding the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and the Farm Bill.

IFBF13 - VilsackVilsack was not complementary of the current Congress saying that they only work when there is a crisis. He used the fiscal cliff as an example. Currently, Congress is reviewing the RFS and the Senate and House have not come to terms on a Farm Bill, or “food, fuel and jobs bill. He said that the RFS was working, and needs to stay in place.

Vilsack said that Congress needs to do the work now on the Farm Bill and the agricultural industry must not succumb to an extension of the current bill because this rewards failure. He also noted that the ag industry deserves a Congress who understands the importance of agriculture.

The Farm Bill, said Vilsack, is not just a food bill. It is a jobs bill, an energy bill, a research bill and an innovation bill, its a conservation bill, its an entrepreneurial bill.  Without all of the above, the U.S. will lose its place as the leader in agriculture. It’s all of these things.

Listen to UDSA Secretary Tom Vilsack’s remarks here: Vilsack: Congress Only Works During Crisis