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A Giant Crop-Scanner Is Turning Heads in Arizona

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

With its 30-ton frame and 50-foot-high catwalk, the newest scanner for measuring crop plants in Maricopa, Arizona, can be seen for miles. It looms over a tract the length of two football fields and moves along steel rails.

“When people saw this big apparatus being built here, they started asking if we were going to be looking for space aliens,” says Jeffrey W. White, an Agricultural Research Service (ARS) plant physiologist with the Arid-Land Agricultural Research Center in Maricopa. Rather than studying the heavens, the scanner is measuring the individual characteristics of thousands of energy sorghum plants growing underneath it. The effort could play an outsized role in meeting the Nation’s future energy needs.

Growing and Building the Billion Ton Bioeconomy

5/4/2016 UPDATE:

Bioeconomy Webinar Information:
Thursday, May 5, 2 p.m.–4 p.m. Eastern Time
Session Link: https://thinktank.inl.gov/login.html?sessionID=59
Session Passkey: 123
Call in: +1 (562) 247-8422
Access Code: 287-084-886

The USDA and other federal agencies recently released the Federal Activities Report on the Bioeconomy (FARB) documenting federal agency activities aimed at helping to develop and support the "bioeconomy" - an emerging part of the overall U.S. economy.  Emphasis is specifically placed on the production and use of biofuels, bioproducts, and biopower.  USDA Chief Scientist and Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics (REE), Dr. Catherine Woteki, stresses these fuels, power, and products are produced using biomass--agricultural residues, grasses, energy crops, forestry trimmings, algae, and other sources--instead of fossil fuels.

The report also delves into the Billion Ton Bioeconomy Vision, an effort coordinated through the Biomass Research and Development (R&D) Board.  Comprised of industry experts from the Departments of Energy (DOE), Agriculture (USDA), Interior (DOI), Transportation (DOT), Defense (DoD), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the Board is committed to collaboration among federal agencies on bioeconomy conceptions working to triple the size of today’s bioeconomy by 2030—to more than a billion tons of biomass.

In Recently Burned Forests, a Woodpecker's Work is Never Done

Following a wildfire, some might see dead trees. Woodpeckers see possibilities.

The black-backed woodpecker is one such bird—a burned forest specialist—who readily chooses fire-killed trees (snags) in which to drill cavities for nesting and roosting.

When the woodpecker moves on, its cavity turns into valuable habitat for other forest-dwelling species.

Smart Federal Partnerships Build Our Biofuels Future

Here at USDA, we believe collaboration is the key to helping us address our nation's most pressing needs, like energy. Building on partnerships in both the public and private sphere, we are leveraging resources to achieve and impact far greater than USDA could ever achieve alone. During this year’s Agricultural Outlook Forum, one breakout session concerned the importance of the bioeconomy in the areas of national security, growth potential, job creation, reduced dependence on oil, and environmental benefits. The session also stressed the need for partnerships to contribute to a growing the bioeconomy as it moved to center stage during the 21st century.  One of the speakers at the session was Jonathan Male, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), U.S. Department of Energy.

Cross-posted from the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy blog:

New Biogas Opportunities Roadmap is Part of Climate Change Solution, Emerging Biogas Industry Offers New Revenue Opportunities for America's Farmers

Farmers have long understood the need to care for our air, land and water. They know that farms are more productive and efficient when they’re properly cared for. Protecting natural resources protects their bottom lines and may be able to improve them as well.

Farmers are always looking for ways to make a living and be good stewards of the land, which is why the emerging biogas industry is so important to rural America. Across the country, biogas systems that capture methane from farming operations and use it to generate renewable energy currently provide enough renewable energy to power the equivalent of almost 70,000 average American homes.

U.S. Forest Service Recognized for Energy Conservation Efforts

The Forest Service’s Technology and Development Center recently received the White House’s 2013 GreenGov Presidential Award and the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2013 Federal Energy and Water Management Award for its net zero energy facility project in San Dimas, Calif. A facility earns a net zero energy designation if it produces more renewable energy than it uses per year. This is the first facility of its kind in the Department of Agriculture.

The Department of Energy also recognized the Center for the same facility project and the Forest Service’s Northern Region for executing a $2.6 million Energy Savings Performance Contract in Fiscal Year 2012.

Drought Stricken Areas to Benefit from USDA, NOAA-Led Initiative

While addressing the effects of the 2012 drought, USDA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other federal partners are preparing proactively for the next one.

As part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the Obama Administration today announced an interagency National Drought Resilience Partnership to help communities better prepare for future droughts and reduce the impact of drought events on livelihoods and the economy.

Spearheaded by USDA and NOAA, members of the National Drought Resilience Partnership will coordinate the delivery of Federal Government policies, programs, information and tools designed to help communities plan for and respond to drought. Other partners in this effort include the Department of the Interior, the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Acting Under Secretary Discusses USDA's Role in Building Support for Aviation Biofuels

Last week, in Chicago, I had the honor to hear from and meet some of the leaders in the nation’s aviation industry as they assembled to issue a new report showing a clear path toward cleaner, more economical and more secure energy alternatives through the increased use of advanced aviation biofuels developed in the Midwest.

Representatives in aviation, academia, policy organizations, city, state and federal government and National governmental organizations met to release recommendations and findings from MASBI - the Midwest Aviation Sustainable Biofuels Initiative.

Energy Department and USDA Partner to Support Energy Efficiency in Rural Communities

Cross posted from the Department of Energy blog:

Each year, urban households in the U.S. combined use more than three times the total energy that America’s rural households do. Yet, the Energy Information Administration estimates that rural families spend about $400 more per year in energy bills compared to the typical urban household. Unlocking new opportunities to save energy will help rural Americans save money, while improving our energy security, creating jobs and protecting our air and water.

Energy Advisor Says a Host of Factors Affect Food Prices

Rob Green’s recent Wall Street Journal op-ed “The cause of higher grocery bills isn’t the drought. It’s the failed federal ethanol policy” fails to take into consideration a host of factors, other than demand for corn, that affect food prices.

In the domestic and global markets commodity, labor, transportation, energy costs, processing, and marketing costs all contribute to what we pay for food in our local grocery store or restaurant. In some cases, factors such as higher oil prices affect one or more of these underlying costs producing higher domestic and world food prices.