Lawmakers create biofuel incentives

by Brian Edwards

More environmentally friendly fuel options could soon appear at gas pumps across Minnesota.
A bill in the state Legislature would set aside $5 million in incentivized funding over the next two years to produce biofuel — or fuel that is partially made with organic materials — from perennial plants and other crops besides corn, which has traditionally been used to create most of the state’s biofuel.
 
In 2007, the state enacted the Next Generation Energy Act, which says by 2025, 25 percent of the total energy used in Minnesota must come from renewable sources.
 
“This [bill] really sets the stage for Minnesota to be able to achieve its renewable energy and water quality goals,” said Trevor Russell, watershed program director for Friends of the Mississippi River, a citizen-led advocacy group.
 
Minnesota set the 2007 standards to help the U.S. move toward using more renewable sources of energy, Russell said.
 
With a similar goal in mind, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 set a nationwide goal to produce 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel by 2022 — 58 percent of would come from biofuel or renewable fuels. 
 
Originally, the Minnesota bill incentivized the use of corn products in biofuel, but Russell said environmental groups objected that proposal, claiming corn can have negative effects on water and soil quality.
 
The bill was amended to provide funding for advanced biofuel production that uses perennial plants and other crops.
 
“The bill is only supportive of advanced biofuels, which offer very deep greenhouse gas reduction relative to gasoline,” said Brendan Jordan, vice president of Great Plains Institute, a nonprofit organization.
 
Jordan said the legislation shows a responsible approach to increasing biofuel production because it doesn’t offer money to producers upfront but instead rewards 
them for successful production.
 
In order to be eligible for the incentive program, producers must obtain at least 80 percent of their plant material from within the state, and within five years, they must use perennials and cover crops to produce 50 percent of their total energy.
 
Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin, who is co-authoring the bill, said the proposal adds value to perennial crops and makes the state a more 
attractive place for bio-based businesses.
 
Shri Ramaswamy, University of Minnesota professor and head of the Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering, said the ability to make biofuel without corn is a positive step toward using more advanced sources of renewable energy.
 
“If you look at petroleum, it took us 50 years to get where we are,” he said. “In terms of how much fossil fuel can be replaced and how much global greenhouse gases can be decreased, all of this is an incremental step forward.”