Argument: Cellulosic ethanol production does not compete with food production

Issue Report: Cellulosic ethanol


“Igniting Cellulosic Biofuel Production.” Science Progress. June 11th, 2008: “Two congressional hearings this week will address U.S. production of biofuels. Today, the Rural and Urban Entrepreneurship Subcommittee of the House Small Business Committee focuses on the role of small businesses and farms in developing the second generation of biofuels. On Thursday, the Senate Natural Resources Committee will address the relationship between biofuel production and food prices.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer currently cites USDA statistics indicating that increases in biofuel production are responsible for only 2 to 3 percent of recent spikes in food prices; the International Monetary Fund estimates that the impact is 20 to 30 percent. As Jake Caldwell, Director of Agriculture and Trade at the Center for American Progress, explained in a recent “Food Price Crisis 101,” the causes of the increase in food prices around the world are myriad and complex. The soaring costs are a combination of changing global diets, climate change and droughts, steep increases in energy costs, as well as diversion of grains out of the food supply and into production of first generation biofuels.

Estimates from David Tilman of the University of Minnesota indicate that the U.S. has abundant sources of alternative cellulosic feedstocks that do not compete with food for fertile land. He projects annual totals of 270 to 430 million tons per year of biomass from: dedicated perennial energy crops grown on the least productive or least sensitive abandoned lands; corn and wheat residues; forestry slash, thinnings, urban waste wood, and mill residues; and reclaimed paper waste. He calculates that appropriately selected and diverse crops of miscanthus, switchgrass, and mixed prairie grasses could yield 20 to 32 billion gallons of ethanol per year and achieve greenhouse gas emissions reductions of at least 50 percent.”