Since feedstocks will be needed to produce the fuel, the Biomass Crop Assistance Program will provide producers with assistance “to defray the cost of production, storage and transportation. The assistance could be as much as 75 percent of the cost of establishing the new crop as well as annual rental payments to help cover the costs of transitioning from current cash crops.” 

A variety of feedstocks will be needed in order to meet the 36 billion gallon threshold. “It may be woody biomass in one area, perennial grasses in another, crop residue in another, algae in another. We want a whole host (of feedstocks) and diversification. With diversification, you strengthen the capacity of the industry to provide” needed fuel.

Vilsack addressed another common complaint about the reluctance of gas stations to incur the costs of supplying biofuels. To help remedy that, the USDA will provide “financial assistance … to help install 10,000 blender pumps and storage systems over the next five years. Work will commence immediately on putting that program together.” 

Why tackle everything en masse? Because there is no choice, said Vilsack.

“It’s a situation where everything has to happen not in a particular sequence but all at once. In other words, you can’t just do additional research on feedstocks and come up with a variety of alternatives to corn-based ethanol and say ‘the problem is solved.’ Because then you have to actually produce it – you have to have biorefineries.

“Well, those biorefineries have to have markets. That means you must be capable of distributing (the fuel) in areas where the biorefinery is located. That means you have to have demand at the gas station for the product.”

Once biorefineries are built, Vilsack is confident, “we’ll see technology being unleashed. I talked to someone yesterday who is very excited about taking woody biomass … and turning it into crude oil. There’s nothing the American innovative spirit can’t do. We just have to unleash and encourage it.”