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 more than 850 growers and landowners farming nearly 48,000 acres to establish and produce dedicated, nonfood energy crops for delivery to energy conversion facilities.
- In 2014, USDA approved 51 contracts for matching payments of $4.6 million toward the collection/harvest of approximately 300,000 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.
Investments in Renewable Energy Production
- Helped lead an effort to promote the domestic production and use of advanced biofuels with the potential to create hundreds of thousands of jobs in rural communities. Invested in research, supported farmers growing bioenergy feedstocks, and helped support hundreds of bioenergy and renewable energy projects nationwide.
- Supported efforts to build 6 new biorefineries to produce advanced biofuels in Louisiana, Georgia, Oregon, Nevada, North Carolina, and Iowa, in addition to three existing facilities in New Mexico, Michigan and Florida previously supported by the program.
- Encouraged the production of advanced biofuels from non-food sources through payments through the Advanced Biofuel Payment Program worth approximately $286 million to over 300 companies already producing biofuels from non-corn feedstocks in 47 states.
- Supported 2,200 wind and solar renewable electricity generation projects between 2009 and 2014, enough to power more than 130,000 homes annually.
- Contracted with private businesses to remove 2.8 million tons of biomass to produce energy annually.
- Shifted the annual Wood Innovations funding opportunity, which promotes expansion of wood energy and wood products markets that support hazardous fuels reduction and forest management on National Forest System lands, to earlier in the fiscal year to give applicants much more time to prepare applications and enable the agency to announce awards sometime in March 2015.
- Continued to work 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.
- Helped thousands of rural small businesses, farmers and ranchers improve their bottom lines by installing renewable energy systems and energy efficiency solutions, which will generate and save more than 9.4 billion kWh- enough energy to power 820,000 American homes annually. USDA also made $10.6 million in loans available to help rural home owners make energy efficiency upgrades.
- Financed 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 since 2009.
- Supported efforts to create 93 anaerobic digesters to help farm operations produce electricity from captured methane. Thanks to a partnership with the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy to reduce greenhouse emissions across the supply chain, most of these projects are at dairy operations.
- 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 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 compliment the internationally recognized Fuel Readiness Tool already 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.