SIOUX CITY, Iowa (KTIV) -- Members of the Senate Ag Committee held a hearing in Sioux City today to look at ways to grow the biofuels industry and lessen America's dependence on foreign oil.
Lawmakers heard from industry experts about the challenges in expanding current corn-based ethanol and the new ethanol technologies coming down the pipeline.
Corn-based ethanol has been a real boon for farmers and rural communities in the Midwest, but next generation cellulosic ethanol will also provide opportunities. That was the focus of the Senate Ag Committee hearing held by Senator Tom Harkin, who says the key to biofuels expansion will be providing the needed government assistance.
"We have to put in place policies that will encourage farmers to start growing more cellulose crops and to use some of the cellulose from the crops that we do produce from corn like the corn cobs and the corn stalks," Harkin said.
South Dakota Senator John Thune says the other obstacle that must be overcome is pushing to higher blend rates for ethanol.
Thune said, "The most immediate issue and the issue of greatest concern to people who produce ethanol is addressing this blend wall, getting this issue of higher blends addressed and getting up to E-15."
He says infrastructure is also a big contraint.
Thune says, "Both in terms of transportation whether that's getting a pipeline to transport ethanol, whether its having enough E-85 pumps at the fueling stations, or having enough flex fuel vehicles on the road those are all issues that need to be addressed."
Once those obstacles are addressed, Harkin sees tremendous income potential for Midwestern farmers and economic benefits to rural communities.
Harkin says, "I think there's great income streams ahead in cellulosic ethanol especially in areas right now that are not highly productive for corn or bean production."
Senators on the Ag Committee say while they support cellulosic ethanol, they won't turn their backs on traditional corn-based ethanol because it will be the bridge to the next generation of ethanol technology. And those testifying at the hearing agreed.
"I think the corn ethanol industry is the home of ethanol technology more than a bridge," said University of Minnesota biofuels expert John Sheehan.
Sheehan also thinks both corn based and cellulosic ethanol production will be sustainable systems, that won't take land away from food or feed needs or cause indirect land use changes.
Sheehan says, "The question about whether or not biofuels cause indirect land use in the Amazon is simply a red herring."
Industry experts estimate cellulosic ethanol is about five years away from being commercially viable.