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Monday, January 24, 2011

Terry Brunner Guest Blog: New Mexico Poised to Benefit from Biofuels Efforts

TerryBrunner This is a guest blog by Terry Brunner, who serves as State Director of USDA Rural Development New Mexico.

The recent announcement that the Abenegoa ethanol plant will reopen in Portales, NM is a positive indicator that New Mexico is expanding its role in the production of biofuels. Abenegoa will use sorghum grown in the Eastern New Mexico region to produce ethanol fuel.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development-New Mexico shares the President’s vision for a revitalized rural economy that creates real opportunity for growth and prosperity that centers on our ability to add innovative technologies, open new markets for crops, and better utilize our natural resources. Our New Mexico rural communities, like Portales, are on the forefront of addressing their economic development by pursuing the potential of the biofuels industry.

Why Biofuels?
Why is there so much emphasis on biofuels production and how exactly does New Mexico fit into the picture?

Today’s energy markets can be volatile and our dependence on imported oil has increased. The United States Energy Information Administration estimates that by 2035, U.S. Energy consumption will have increased by another 50%. Thirty years ago, imports comprised 28% of our oil consumption -- now imports have risen to approximately 60%.

Congress recognized the risks associated with our dependency on imported oil and in 2007 enhanced our nation’s Renewable Fuel Standard with a goal of producing 36 billion gallons of biofuels by 2022 with 21 billion of those gallons generated from advanced biofuels. Today the United States produces approximately 12 billion gallons of ethanol biofuels and around 800 million gallons of biodiesel.

The U.S. is not alone in pursuing biofuels. Many nations see an increase in mandates for biofuels usage as a method to insulate their economies from volatile oil markets and to use cleaner energy. Some may doubt our capacity to meet the challenges of incorporating biofuels into our energy portfolio but it’s a challenge worth pursuing which could result in diversifying transportation energy sources, enhancing agricultural producers and reinvigorating our rural economies.

To meet our biofuels requirements we must strengthen the links in the production chain of organic matter into fuel. That entails increasing the number of biorefineries and expanding the cultivation of biofuel feed stocks, such as: corn, sorghum, wood and algae. Designing the highest quality fuel for the market requires constant technological innovation. As well, establishing distribution points and fueling stations are essential links in the chain.

Rural Development Biofuel Support in NM
USDA Rural Development is prepared to support the production of biofuels in a variety of ways. We offer incentives for new construction of biorefineries or conversion of traditional refineries into biorefineries. We offer payments to the biofuels producer and much-needed research and development funding into biofuels technologies. USDA Rural Development offers financial assistance to businesses for the installation of blender fuel pumps at local service stations.

New Mexico could contribute substantially to our Nation’s production of biofuels. From a resources standpoint, New Mexico offers piñon and juniper trees that have been removed as part of forest health efforts that could be used as a biofuels feedstock. Sorghum is the third largest crop produced by New Mexico farmers and can be converted to ethanol.

Our vast underground reserves of brackish water provide the potential medium for the cultivation of algae for conversion into fuel. USDA Rural Development recently provided a $50 million loan guarantee to Sapphire Energy for the creation of an algae-based biofuels plant in Columbus, NM.

Much of the transportation of biofuels from the Midwest to the West Coast travels directly through New Mexico by rail or on Interstate 40. That puts our state in the position of tapping directly into the biofuels distribution routes.

Finally, we are all well aware of our state’s historical capacity to offer groundbreaking research in developing state-of-the-art technology. The creation of biofuels for tomorrow’s markets requires advanced technical research and development. Our National Laboratories, higher education institutions and private sector certainly can offer their resources to the development of advanced biofuels.

New Mexico’s combination of natural resources, transportation infrastructure and technological know-how puts our State in a great strategic position to pursue the development of a biofuels economy. Whether we are talking about communities like Columbus or Portales; our rural communities stand to benefit from an emerging biofuels and renewable energy economy and USDA Rural Development is certainly ready to support their efforts.

President Barack Obama appointed Terry Brunner New Mexico State Director for USDA Rural Development on September 9, 2009.

If you'd like to submit a piece for consideration as a guest blog, contact me by clicking on the Email Me link at the upper left-hand corner of the page.

January 24, 2011 at 05:25 PM in Agriculture, Energy, Environment, Rural Issues | Permalink