Amid a partisan atmosphere U.S. President Barack Obama pushes for progress on both climate change and biofuels legislation.  (Source: Hybrid Cars)
Amid doubts about climate change legislation, Obama is focusing on biofuels as a way of greening our nation

Under President George W. Bush, Democrats and Republicans found some common ground in alternative energy.  While not all their solutions were practical (corn ethanol being one particularly impractical push), there was some progress.  Now bickering along partisan lines has dissolved that commonality, bringing the legislation necessary to make a green push of any kind into question.

Amid that formidable atmosphere President Obama is trying to get our nation's green efforts back on course.  Rather than focus solely on carbon controls, our nation should also turn its attention back to biofuels, President Obama said at a recent meeting with state governors at the White House.  His remarks followed comments on global warming, biofuels, and nuclear energy delivered in his State of the Union address.

Currently, a 2007 energy bill passed under President George W. Bush calls for 36 billion gallons of biofuel to be produced in the U.S. by 2022.  However, the incentives to help push that bill have evaporated and many biofuel companies have folded after tax credits expired in January.  The result is an increasingly bleak prospect of making the benchmarks set out in the energy bill.

The nation must get back on track, says Obama.  The White House writes in a recently released 14-page report (Scribd format), "This is a substantial goal, but one that the U.S. can meet or beat. However, past performance and business as usual will not get us there. Today, only 12 billion gallons of biofuels are produced annually."

Where as the nation is quite close to achieving the 15 billion gallons of the much-maligned corn ethanol proposed by the energy bill, the nation isn't anywhere near the 21 billion gallons that is supposed to be coming from alternative sources.  These sources -- sugar cane ethanol from the southwest, cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass, and cellulosic ethanol from crop waste -- seem the most promising, but commercial deployment has been slow.

Obama's departments of agriculture and energy along with the EPA are being pushed to work together to speed up this process.  While the plan was scant on details on how this would occur, it did promise increased loan guarantees to promote non-corn ethanol.  One potential shortcoming of the plan is its lack of focus on algae technology.  Algae is considered by many in the industry as one of the most promising biofuel feedstocks, but the word "algae" only appears twice in the report.

Despite the report's shortcomings Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) President and CEO Jim Greenwood praised Obama's support, stating, "Building biorefineries that utilize biotechnology to transform many types of renewable feedstocks into biofuels and bio-based chemicals can create thousands of jobs in the next few years. These jobs would be created not just in the fuels and chemicals sector, but also in farming and rural areas, construction and engineering, and advanced research and development. The technology is ready, and the United States leads in the development of innovative biotechnology solutions. What has held the industry back in the current economy is the need for capital and investment."

He says that creating biofuel refineries and production facilities can create 29,000 new jobs and $5.5B USD in economic growth by 2012 and 800,000 new jobs by 2022.  These numbers come from a recent report (PDF) by the Bio Economic Research Associates, an industry organization.

Even with his focus on biofuels, President Obama isn't giving up on climate change legislation.  Among other initiatives, he's pushing coal plants to adopt carbon-capture technologies.  He stated at the recent meeting, "Today I'm announcing a carbon capture and storage task force that will be charged with ... figuring out how we can deploy affordable clean coal technology.  We want to get up 10 commercial demonstration projects -- get those up and running by 2016."

He envisions such technologies as being widespread within 10 years.  Many hurdles remain, though -- the foremost of which are the high costs and lower power output that capture technologies currently inflict.  Also, many argue that storing carbon underground is an unproven method that could backfire if geological events release the gas.

In his recent address, President Obama announced plans to explore nuclear energy expansion as a strategy to fight climate change.

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