Oregon, NW will vie for piece of $510M biofuel funding
By Christina Williams
Editor, Sustainable Business Oregon
Hybrid poplars are just one potential feedstock for biofuels that could be used by the U.S. military.
The Obama Administation anted up on a big biofuels bet Tuesday, announcing that the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Energy and Navy will invest up to $510 million during the next three years in private-sector companies producing biofuels for use in aviation and marine applications.
The move was expected by the industry and is being steered by the administration's push for reducing dependence on foreign oil.
An Oregon-based effort is already mobilizing to position the Northwest to garner some of the funding when it becomes available.
John Talbott, director of the Sun Grant Western Regional Center at Oregon State University, said his organizations has had ongoing contact with the Department of Defense.
"We knew they had an interest in biofuels and we've maintained those conversations," Talbott said. "We fully indent to put together a consortium, not just in Oregon but within the western region to go after some of those funds."
Talbott said the effort would be industry-led by biofuels companies, many of which —including ZeaChem and Beaver Biodiesel LLC — received funding from the USDA last month.
The new biofuels initiative was steered by the White House Biofuels Interagency Work Group and the White House Rural Council. The $510 million will be invested in cases where there is a one-to-one match from private industry.
The significant investment in biofuels is likely to reignite a fuel-vs.-food debate about the merits of dedicating agricultural land to fuel pumps ahead of produce aisles.
But Talbott points out that in the Northwest there is already much land dedicated to hybrid crops including oil seeds and the hybrid poplar that will be put to work in the ZeaChem plant in Boardman.
A request for funding applications will open up later this year or early next year.
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