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USDA Results: Energy

Farmers and ranchers continue to lead the charge towards a more sustainable energy future. According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, 57,299 farms reported using a renewable energy producing system in 2012. That's more than double the 23,451 operations that reported the same in 2007. Solar panels accounted for 63% of renewable energy producing systems on farms, with 36,331 farms reporting their use. To create jobs in rural communities, drive economic growth, and help reduce our dependence on foreign oil, USDA continues to aggressively pursue investments in renewable energy.

Support for Growers, Landowners and Producers of Renewable Energy Feedstocks

  • Encouraged feedstock production for renewable energy by establishing the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) which is incentivizing nearly 1,000 growers and landowners farming nearly 49,000 acres to establish and produce dedicated, nonfood energy crops for delivery to energy conversion facilities. In 2016, $1 million was allocated toward the sign up of up to 1,000 acres in project area 5 for miscanthus in Ohio and Pennsylvania and project area 10 for shrub willow in New York.
    1. In 2014 and 2015, USDA approved 209 contracts for matching payments of $15.8 million toward the collection/harvest of approximately 790,000 dry tons of forest residues from National Forest and BLM public lands - forest residues removed for the reduction or containment of disease or insect infestation and reduction of fire threat and agricultural residues, including orchard waste and corn stover.
    2. In 2016, USDA allocated $1.5 million toward the sign up for matching payments with sign up running from June 15th to August 4th.
  • Expanded the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) to cover bioenergy crops that are not covered under USDA's crop insurance program.
  • Invested $332 million to accelerate research on renewable energy ranging from genomic research on bioenergy feedstock crops, to development of biofuel conversion processes and costs/benefit estimates of renewable energy production.
  • Completed a Biofuels Roadmap identifying barriers to and proposed plan of action to meet congressionally mandated RFS2 goals for national biofuels production.
  • Coordinated six regional research centers to work on the research and development necessary to ensure profitable biofuels can be sustainably produced from a diverse range of feedstocks across the nation and that U.S. production can meet food, feed, and fiber needs as well as for biofuels.
  • Under President Obama's Climate Action Plan, USDA, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy and the dairy industry have also completed the Biogas Opportunities Roadmap, Voluntary Actions to Reduce Methane Emissions and Increase Energy Independence (PDF, 1MB), and subsequent update (PDF, 3.5MB), which identifies voluntary actions that can be taken to reduce methane emissions through the use of biogas systems and outlines strategies to overcome barriers to a robust biogas industry in the United States and increase the use of biogas to help meet our renewable energy goals.
    1. Worked with the city of Salinas, California, and its landfill, to develop a large pilot-scale biorefinery that converts rural and urban solid waste into ethanol, biogas, compost, and value-added recyclables. Each ton of food processing waste at the landfill currently can be converted into 65 gallons of ethanol. If the same biomass source is converted to liquefied natural biogas, which has the same burn rate as 100 percent ethanol, it yields 108 gallons of transportation fuel, which can be used to power diesel turbines. Together, USDA and the city are creating an "energy park" that converts both agricultural biomass and curb-collected garbage into bioenergy in the same biorefinery, which demonstrates the facility's remarkable flexibility in handling and processing different feedstock supplies.
  • Encouraged the production of advanced biofuels from non-food sources through payments through the Advanced Biofuel Payment Program, established in the 2008 Farm Bill. Payments are made to biofuels producers based on the amount of advanced biofuels produced from renewable biomass, other than corn kernel starch. Examples of eligible feedstocks include crop residue, food and yard waste, vegetable oil, and animal fat. Through this program to date, USDA has made $312 million in payments to almost 400 producers in 47 states. These payments have produced enough biofuel to provide more than 63 billion kilowatt hours of electric energy and over 8.6 billion gallons of advanced biofuel.

Investments in Renewable Energy Production and Sustainable Energy Use

  • Invested in the work needed to create advanced biofuels refineries. USDA is supporting efforts to build 6 new biorefineries to produce advanced biofuels in Louisiana, Georgia, Oregon, Nevada, and North Carolina, in addition to an existing facility in New Mexico previously supported by the program.
  • USDA has invested $38 billion in electric loans and more than $1 billion for smart grid technologies since 2009, helping build more than 185,000 miles of transmission and distribution lines serving approximately 5 million rural customers annually.
  • Contracted with private businesses to remove 2.8 million tons of biomass to produce energy annually.
  • Through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), USDA has assisted over 15,000 rural small businesses, farmers and ranchers improve their bottom lines by installing renewable energy systems and energy efficiency solutions and providing related technical assistance. All told, REAP projects are generating renewable energy and saving energy reducing greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to removing almost 1.2 million cars from the road annually.
    1. USDA has provided over $11.9 million to 136 recipients of the REAP Energy Audit and Renewable Energy Development Assistance program, which has benefited over 3,300 rural small businesses and agricultural producers.
    2. Since 2009 USDA has provided over $380 million in REAP grants and over $595 million in REAP loan guarantees to agricultural producers and rural small business owners financing over 11,600 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects that have reduced energy costs for rural businesses nationwide.
    3. REAP supported over 4,000 wind and solar renewable energy projects, enough to power more than 158,000 homes annually and more than 100 anaerobic digesters to help farm operations produce and capture methane to produce electricity.
  • Since 2009, USDA has helped thousands of rural small businesses, farmers and ranchers improve their bottom lines by investing in renewable energy systems and energy efficiency solutions, including financing over $1.7 billion to help rural electricity providers make environmental improvements of carbon-emitting power plants that will reduce emissions, bring significant cost savings, and improve the quality of life for those living and working in rural America.
  • Made available $100 million in grants under the Biofuel Infrastructure Partnership (BIP), estimated to nearly double the number of fueling pumps nationwide that supply renewable fuels, such as E15 and E85, to American motorists. Twenty-one states are participating in the BIP, with matching funds from state and private partners, providing $210 million to build nearly 5,000 pumps at over 1,400 fueling stations to strengthen the rural economy and increase the demand for agricultural commodities used in the production of 5 biofuels.
  • Invested nearly $1 billion through grants, loans, and loan guarantees to support over 230 wood energy projects across the country to reduce reliance on costly fossil fuels, support rural economic growth and advance forest restoration. Since 2013, the Forest Service has also established cooperative agreements with 16 states to support Statewide Wood Energy Teams to increase the knowledge and use of wood energy.
  • Accelerated the development of, and systems for, the production of advanced biofuels for automotive, marine and aviation use from forest and agricultural waste and non-food, non-feed dedicated biomass feedstocks (perennial grasses, woody biomass, energy cane, sorghum). For example, a team of USDA crop breeders working on one of seven large USDA regional bioenergy system projects has released for commercialization high-yielding switchgrass cultivars adapted to marginal lands in the central US.
  • Worked with the forest pulp industry to "bolt-on" capacity to make biobased products in existing mills to diversify product lines, increase revenues, and create and preserve jobs in the Pacific Northwest and Southeast.
  • Developed sustainable and affordable systems for harvesting beetle-killed trees from accessible areas of the ~42 million acres of damaged, dead, and dying trees in the Rocky Mountain west for processing into fuel and products.

Support for Aviation Biofuels

  • Worked in partnership with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the commercial aviation industry on Farm to Fly 2.0 to enable commercially-viable, sustainable aviation biofuel supply chains in the U.S. that are able to support the goal of one billion gallons of sustainable production capacity and use for the Aviation Enterprise by 2018. Development and use of these biofuel will help meet our nation's energy needs, improve air quality, combat global climate change, and fuel economic growth. In 2014, the US Department of Energy joined the partnership with a focus on supporting R&D as well as demonstration and deployment activities. The national work is being expanded at the regional and state level. Several commercial airlines have flown demonstration and commercial flights powered by biofuels and have established offtake agreements with fuel suppliers for commercial fuel production starting in 2015.
  • Co-developed with FAA and Department of Transportation's Volpe Center the Feedstock Readiness Level Tool to complement the internationally recognized Fuel Readiness Tool developed by FAA and the Commercial Air Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI) to track progress on alternative jet fuel research, certification, and demonstration. Work is also being done to create a dynamic repository which reflects these promising biomass crops that can be converted into aviation biofuel.
  • Invested in 5 broad research projects focused on feedstock development for aviation biofuels. One of the awards made to Washington State University has been built upon with the selection of that University as a co-lead of the FAA's Center of Excellence for Alternative Jet Fuels and the Environment known as the Aviation Sustainability Center (ASCENT).
  • Worked with the U.S. Navy on a Farm to Fleet program, announced in December 2013. This program complements the Defense Production Act and makes biofuel blends part of regular bulk fuel purchase and operational use by the military, up to 50 percent. Alternative fuels annexes have been added to contract solicitations which are underway. To date, one contract has been awarded by DLA-Energy to deliver 77.7 million gallons of biofuel to the Navy.
    1. Navy launched the Great Green Fleet in 2016 which uses with advanced biofuel made from waste beef fat. Aviation biofuels, like those used by the Navy, are creating new markets for agricultural waste products in the energy space. The Great Green Fleet is a Department of the Navy initiative highlighting how the Navy and Marine Corps are using energy efficiency and alternative energy to increase combat capability and operational flexibility. Sailing the Great Green Fleet in 2016 was one of the five energy goals Secretary of the Navy Mabus set in 2009 for the Navy and Marine Corps.
    2. Partnered with the U.S. Navy and Department of Energy to accelerate the development of domestic, competitively-priced "drop-in" diesel and jet fuel substitutes. These agencies jointly committed up to $510 million to produce advanced, drop-in aviation and marine biofuels to power military and commercial transportation. Awards under the Defense Production Act were announced in 2014 for three companies (Fulcrum Sierra Biofuels, LLC; Emerald Biofuels, LLC; and Red Rock Biofuels, LLC) to scale up production capacity to supply the U.S. Navy with over 100 million gallons per year of advanced drop-in biofuel.
  • Invested in two commercial aviation biofuel projects including a New Mexico facility which produces "green" crude oil from algae, which can be refined into transportation fuel; and a Nevada biorefinery which will produce aviation biofuel from municipal solid waste.
  • Invested more than $237.2 million in research, education and extension grants through AFRI Sustainable Bioenergy and Bioproducts challenge area, which have resulted in a number of outcomes in support of the bioeconomy.
    1. Alaska Airlines will be able to use 1,000 gallons of biofuel produced by Washington State University's Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA) in a demonstration flight in the near future.
    2. University of California-Davis researchers were able to map the genome of the loblolly pine, a potential non-food source for biofuel.