Biobased fuels may be the largest growth area for agricultural product utilization in the next decade. From individual farming operations to municipal utilities, energy consumers are intrigued by renewable fuels.
“There is real interest,” says Jack Johnson, AURI director of engineering services. “Concerns over energy reliance, fluctuating fuel costs, (the environment) and increasing cost effectiveness of renewable fuels are some of the reasons why individuals and industries are taking a closer look.”
Minnesota is leading the way in research and promotion of many ag-based fuels — with 15 operating ethanol plants, the only statewide mandate for biodiesel in the country, leading-edge research on solid renewable fuels, and construction on the nation’s first turkey-litter powered plant moving ahead.
“Energy is one of our largest focuses,” says Yvonne Simon of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association. “It’s not just ethanol, but E-diesel, E-85 and fuel cells.”
The U.S. ethanol industry has grown to about one billion gallons per year. Federal forecasts show renewable electrical generation from biomass, landfill gas, geothermal energy and windpower shows promise as well.
“The largest increase is projected for biomass, from 36.6 billion kilowatt-hours in 1999 to 65.7 billion in 2020,” according to the Annual Energy Outlook 2001 report by the U.S. Department of Energy’s statistical agency.
Energy from renewable resources means an agriculturally-powered economy, Johnson says. “We need to assess what people are willing to pay for self reliance.”