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Triple Bio: Research

Biomas Inventory Anaerobic Digestion Biofuels
Combustion Feedstocks High-value Bioproducts  
     

 

Biomass Inventory

 

Anaerobic Digestion

 

Biofuels

Overview

Escalating energy prices, particularly for transportation, have revived interest from consumers, policy makers, and industry in the potential for developing bioenergy resources, specifically liquid biofuels which can supplement petroleum-based gasoline and diesel. The expectation is that biofuels may now be more economically competitive with their fossil fuel counterparts, and that biofuels may help ease tightening demand, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and reduce reliance on imported petroleum from hostile countries. Furthermore, there is an expressed desire to develop the entire value chain for biofuel production within the state in order to keep energy dollars – and the multiplier effect of those dollars – in the local economy.

Recent developments in the state have demonstrated a rapidly growing market for refined products, as well as emerging processing infrastructure – especially for biodiesel. This emerging market, however, is being served by feedstock oil imported from the Midwest, Canada or the tropics as there is very limited in-state production of biofuel feedstock crops. The critical question remaining for an “in-state value chain” for biofuels is whether farmers will plant the necessary acreage of feedstock crops to support local demand? The traditional answer to this question is “if you build it [the market and processing infrastructure], they [farmers] will come”, but this expectation may be overly naïve as there are very significant obstacles yet to be overcome.

These obstacles include:

1) Knowledge of the agronomics of oil seed crop production and availability of locally adapted crop varieties;

2) Increased risk associated with producing new crops;

3) Insufficient prices for break-even production [not even profitable production]; and

4) The considerable amount of acreage necessary to meet demand for oil.

Attempts to encourage feedstock production, without full consideration for these obstacles and others, have resulted in increased skepticism from farmers and therefore no increases in production of feedstock crops. In order to build the full value-chain for biofuels in the state, including feedstock production, these key obstacles will need to be overcome. In contrast, many growers in Minnesota receive part of their farm income from the corn crop and the other half from the farmer-owned ethanol cooperative.

It is important to understand the core starting point differences between the Pacific Northwest and the Midwest in building the bioeconomy. The Midwest’s starting point was two existing mega-crops (corn and soybeans). Both are in a glut of supply. We produce over 350 agricultural products in Washington State in a variety of different agricultural systems. Current dedicated“energy crops”, such as oilseed crops, are only minor crops and cellulosic ethanol technology (for converting wheat straw or other biomass to ethanol) is not fully market ready. Celluosic ethanol is in the pilot demonstration stage of development. The demonstration plant is located in Ames, Iowa (Iowa State University).

Washington State University, in partnership with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and Natural Resource Conservation Services (NRCS) have more than two decades of program activities which are supportive of sustainable, bioenergy development in the state, particularly addressing the key obstacles to the establishment of viable feedstock crop production in the region. In addition to WSU, ARS, and NRCS, the University of Idaho and Oregon State University have key capabilities. The potential benefits are regional. The recent groundswell of interest in bioenergy production outside of the agricultural sector provides a tremendous opportunity for WSU to partner with agricultural industry to overcome many of the historical barriers to the introduction of viable bioenergy crops and consequently spur economic development in our state and region. The goals of our efforts in this area are to document the potential for sustainably producing bioenergy crops within the context of existing and future cropping systems and agroclimates of WA state, improve the yield and economic performance of these crops with best agronomic management and genetic selection, identify viable crop rotation schemes that take advantage of these crops in providing rotational benefits to the productivity of other crops in the system, identify useful co-products and crop uses for these bioenergy crops, and to facilitate the adoption of bioenergy crops in the state (and beyond).

 

Combustion Feedstocks

 

High-value Bioproducts

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Updated April 19, 2006

 

 
Triple BIOTM: BIOAgTM, BIOEnergy, and BIOProducts
A vision to support the emergence of a sustainable bioeconomy in Washington State

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