By Justin Sherlock, NFU intern

On Thursday, the White House hosted a panel titled “Innovations in Renewable Energy” which is part of the Champions of Change recognition efforts that are being done.

In essence, the White House was honoring individuals who have helped spur innovations that are advancing the renewable energy industry. One honoree, Lt. Col. Alan Samuels helped develop and implement micro-grids to distribute and utilize electricity more effectively at forward operating bases in Afghanistan, which are similar to our national electric grid but instead are self-contained within the base. Another honoree was James Liao who is researching ways to increase carbon dioxide fixation in plants. This would allow them to increase their efficiency and produce more, providing us with more material for food, feed, fibers and fuel. Eric Ingersoll’s company is developing energy storage systems that work by compressing and storing air in old mines when excess electricity is available, and then releasing the pressurized air to spin turbines when additional electricity is in demand.

Another honoree was Jerry Taylor, Jr. who is CEO of MFA Oil. MFA Oil is a farmer owned cooperative based in Missouri. Their company took a leap of faith and is expanding into the biofuels industry. Specifically, MFA is in the process of constructing a commercial scale cellulosic biofuel plant in Missouri that will utilize miscanthus giganteus. This feedstock can produce up to 15 tons of biomass per acre. Mr. Taylor stated that once the plant is up and running MFA will have the capacity to produce biofuel that is the equivalent of 125 million barrels of oil. By comparison, Mr. Taylor jokingly stated that once up and running, this small farmer owned oil company will have the capacity to produce about 1/7th the production of oil giant Exxon Mobil. Through the utilization of Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) funding, MFA was able to have the secure knowledge that they could go ahead with this project on such a scale.

One of the most important take home points from this event was that government assistance and research goes a long way. In the case of MFA Oil, Mr. Taylor highlighted that cellulosic ethanol was like the chicken and the egg story. If research was only done on the processing side, but the feedstock was not there, it would not become viable and self supporting. Through programs such as BCAP, producers have the confidence to produce the feedstock. This confidence has also finally encouraged the manufacturing sector to begin developing and producing planting and harvesting equipment specifically for the celluosic markets, which increases efficiency of the producers. Taylor stated that producers can likely expect returns of around $400 per acre with few input requirements.  He is proud that MFA Oil will be a leader in the cellulosic market with one of the first viable commercial scale facilities.

Other honorees included Erin Geegan, Kevin Frank, Vernice Creese, Ed O’Rourke and Jan Blittersdorf.

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