Study: Iowa ag residue could play big role in energy production

Source: Christopher Doering, Des Moines Register • Posted: Wednesday, July 23, 2014


Crop residue and manure from U.S. agriculture producers could generate a significant amount of clean fuels and electricity in 2030, with Iowa poised to be the biggest contributor, a study released Monday by the Union of Concerned Scientists said.

The report found Iowa could have 31 million tons of agricultural residue available in 2030. Corn stover, including stalks, husks and cobs, could yield 1 billion additional gallons of ethanol each year starting in 2030 — an expansion of more than 25 percent — without the use of one extra kernel of corn.

The group said crop residue from Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and other states can help the United States reduce its oil use and decrease coal consumption.

Livestock farmers also could help produce energy. The Cambridge, Mass.-based group said anaerobic digesters can be used to extract biogas from manure. The biogas can then be used to provide heat and power for the farm, or it can be further purified and sold as renewable natural gas or used to generate electricity.

“Biofuels and biopower can play a larger role in our fuel and electricity mix in the years to come with technological improvements, private investment and smart public policies,” said Joshua Goldman, policy analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Responsible development of biomass resources can go hand in hand with producing a more balanced harvest of healthy food.”

The group said the U.S. could tap nearly 680 million tons of biomass resources each year by 2030, enough to produce more than 10 billion gallons of ethanol, or 166 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity — equal to 4 percent of total U.S. power consumption in 2010.

Ethanol produced from crop residue is coming online across the United States, with three plants in Iowa expected to be running by the end of this year. Quad County Corn Processors produced the state’s first-ever gallon of commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol earlier this month. DuPont and Poet also are expected to open their cellulosic plants in the state in 2014, producing 30 million and 25 million gallons, respectively, of ethanol annually when they are fully operational.

The report comes as the Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees the mandate that refiners blend ethanol into the country’s gasoline supply, is expected to announce in the next several weeks the amount of ethanol that is supposed to be blended this year.

In November, the EPA proposed lowering — from what Congress required — how much ethanol should be blended into the country’s gasoline supply in 2014. Renewable fuel supporters have warned a cut could slow growth, especially in the nascent cellulosic industry that uses crop residue.

Iowa, the largest ethanol-producing state,