Friday, March 18, 2011

Day 2: Issues Facing Biofuels Research

During the second day of the workshop, participants were charged with prioritizing the issues identified the previous day and identifying areas where the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service could collaborate with stakeholders. Overall, every group put logistics and feedstock development towards the top of the list. Although environmental impacts remained a topic of concern, it did not top any of the lists. My only hope is that we can adapt life cycle assessments (LCA) that go beyond carbon, as LCAs are the tool of choice by industry to measure environmental impacts.

From my perspective, a factor limiting clear funding pathways for biofuels’ research is the interconnectedness among the different issues. Routinely throughout the workshop, we identified the need to keep all sectors of the supply chain interoperable. It appears that we may be at a standoff in terms of moving forward because of the reluctance of growers to invest the time and resources into biofuel feedstock production if there are few biofuel refineries that demand supply. Meanwhile, companies have difficulty securing loans to build biofuel refineries without proof of an available and consistent feedstock supply. At some point, long-term contracts between farmers and refiners will be needed to overcome such market apprehension.

Barbara Fricks
PhD Student, Colorado State University
NSF IGERT Multidisciplinary Approaches to Sustainable BioEnergy fellow

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