Thursday, May 21, 2009
By Mike Flaherty
ATLANTA - Agriculture was a constant theme throughout BIO 2009.
- A report released Wednesday at the conference by UK-based PG Economics shows that a record 13.3 million farmers in 25 countries are using agricultural biotechnology to reduce fuel use and decrease the use of pesticides.
"As we continue to see the global adaption of biotech crops, we are also seeing a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions," said Graham Brookes, director of PG Economics and a co-author of its "Global Impact Study."
The use of biocrops and biotechnologies to reduce fuel use and the need for pesticide was the equivalent of removing 14.2 billion kilograms of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, or removing 6.3 million cars from the road for a year, the report said.
Pesticide use has dropped 17.2 percent, helped increase farm income by adding 4.4 percent to the value of the production of soybeans, corn, canola and cotton in 2007, the report said.
- A number of companies announced plans to begin building "green energy" fuel plants.
Gevo, Inc., based in Denver, is producing a new "biofuel" that can convert wood and plant matter, or cellulose, in a hydrocarbon fuel chemically similar to gasoline. It announced the construction of a 1 million gallon demonstration plant this year in Colorado.
"This is not hypothetical gasoline, this is gasoline. It is a hydrocarbon that can be used to make gasoline, jet fuel, diesel fuel and even plastics," said Patrick Gruber, a scientist and sales representative for Gevo.
DuPont Danisco Cellulosic vice president Jack Hutter said it is building a demonstration plant in Tennessee to convert switchgrass and corn cobs into a ethanol, a technology that "is already here" and can compete with gasoline prices at about $80 per barrel.
British Petroleum scientists unveiled its plans to grow sugar in Florida and directly ferment it to produce ethanol fuel – a system that is more efficient than using corn because the starch in corn first has to be converted to a sugar before it can be fermented. BP is building a 36 million demonstration plant in Florida to show the system is sustainable and cost effective, they said, noting that Brazil already has a highly developed ethanol industry fueled by sugar crops.
"We have a whole range of technologies in this field, many of which have promise,'' Brent Erickson, executive vice president for BIO who specializes in sustainability. "There won't be any one solution.'' He noted that scientists in the biotech industry are also looking at ways to convert algae to ethanol fuel.
Chevron and Weyerhauser are combining forces to produce fuel crops in between the trees being grown for lumber and paper. Energy crops can also be planted on degraded or unused pasture land as well, bringing new uses for the land and new income for poor farmers.
"Every country and every region will likely have a different model,'' Erickson said.
A study released by BIO International showed that advanced biofuel production could generate 29,000 new jobs and create $5.5 billion in economic growth over th enext three years as companies continue to develop new ways to convert plant matter to liquid fuel or other forms of usable energy.
The report, called U.S. Economic Impact of Advanced BioFuels Production: Perspectives to 2030, analyzes how the growth of an advanced biofuels industry will impact jobs, economic growth, energy security and investment opportunity. Total jobs produced (which includes the associated jobs related to the growth of the sector) could be as much as 807,000 by 2022 with total economic output that year of as much as $37 billion.