CHICAGO – Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the Governors Ethanol Coalition today announced their support for federal legislation to increase corn ethanol production in America and to support research and development in the production of ethanol from new feedstocks. Under the proposal unveiled by the Governors Ethanol Coalition (GEC), 5 percent of America’s transportation fuel would come from ethanol by 2010 through a law known as a National Renewable Fuels Security Standard. As a result of this legislation, $800 million in federal money would be committed to research and development to enable the production of ethanol from additional “biomass” sources, including corn kernel fiber, corn stalks, wheat straw and other agricultural wastes. An additional $800 million would be committed to support early commercialization of biomass ethanol plants.
“America’s national security is linked to our dependence on foreign energy, and our country’s economic growth is threatened by soaring oil prices. But we have options right here at home to achieve new, long-term energy stability and to help lower the price that we pay at the pumps. We can double our production of ethanol through traditional methods and develop new technologies to produce ethanol from corn fiber and alternate agricultural wastes,” Gov. Blagojevich said. “I have faith in the work of our farmers and in the creativity of our agribusinesses that they can dramatically expand our production of ethanol here at home. Congress can take steps to support this industry and heighten America’s energy independence through advanced ethanol research and production.”
During Gov. Blagojevich’s chairmanship of the GEC in 2004, the coalition began convening stakeholders to develop recommendations for both the Renewable Fuels Standard and for the development of ethanol from new biomass feedstocks. Today, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, the current chair of the coalition, released the report on the findings of that collaborative process. The report titled “Ethanol From Biomass: America’s 21st Century Transportation Fuel” is available on the GEC website at www.ethanol-gec.org.
The first major recommendation of the report is for Congress to enact a National Renewable Fuels Security Standard, with the nation achieving a 5 percent standard by 2010. Under this standard, ethanol utilization would grow from approximately 3 percent of the transportation fuel mix today, or 3.7 billion gallons of ethanol annually, to 5 percent, and then specifically meet a total gallon standard of 8 billion gallons by 2012. Gov. Blagojevich previously announced his support for the bipartisan “Fuels Security Act of 2005,” introduced in March by U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) and U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), which mirrors the GEC recommendation and raises ethanol production to 8 billion gallons by 2012. U.S. Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) are co-sponsors of that legislation.
Two other major recommendations of the report call on Congress to support research, development and commercialization of ethanol from biomass resources. Biomass refers to many common sources of fiber, such as corn kernel fiber, corn stover, wheat straw, rice hulls, papermill waste, and many other common agricultural and forest residues found across the country. Ethanol production from traditional corn sources can double or perhaps triple in America. But ethanol could become a much larger energy resource - a sizeable portion of overall sources for transportation fuels, significantly reducing the nation’s dependence on imported oil - if economically produced from additional biomass resources.
Illinois is likely to play a leading role in the development of ethanol production from biomass resources because it has leading research institutions and because large volumes of biomass are present and underutilized in today’s ethanol plants. Current ethanol technologies use only one portion of the corn kernel - the starch - to produce ethanol. The remainder of the corn kernel, containing protein and fiber as well as other components, is sold as livestock feed, most commonly as DDGS (Dried Distillers Grains). Production of ethanol from the fiber produces a higher-protein livestock feed, adding even more value for the ethanol plant operator.
Illinois is home to one of the leading ethanol research centers in the nation: The National Corn to Ethanol Research Center (NCERC) at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) that is developing technologies to support advanced ethanol production from biomass. The NCERC was a participant in the GEC’s stakeholder dialogues leading to the report and provided key technical contributions. Gov. Blagojevich recently announced a $1 million Opportunity Returns investment in the Center for capital equipment upgrades needed to advance its research.
But ethanol does more than support Illinois’ and our nation’s agricultural industry; ethanol helps protect our environment. Ethanol is an important additive that makes the gasoline burn cleaner and is more environmentally friendly than its competing additive: MTBE. Experts have linked MTBE to groundwater contamination and the additive has been banned in 19 states, including Illinois.
Gov. Blagojevich’s call for Congressional action on ethanol is consistent with several other steps he has recently taken to advance the ethanol industry in Illinois. In addition to his support of NCERC, he has announced $500,000 in Opportunity Returns funding to increase access to E-85, an advanced hybrid of ethanol, and allow more gas station operators to offer the 85 percent ethanol fuel. Gov. Blagojevich also provided $4.8 million to the Lincolnland Agri-Energy Ethanol plant in Robinson to help the plant succeed in closing on private financing for the project and advance E-85 production within the state. The Lincolnland plant is now producing more than 40 million gallons of ethanol per year. Within months of being sworn into office, the Governor also lobbied for and signed legislation to eliminate the state sales tax on E-85, allowing the fuel to retail for 10 to 15 cents per gallon cheaper than regular unleaded gasoline.