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USDA’s Use Of Biofuels Could Benefit Indiana

Indiana is a major corn producer, and corn stover is often used for biofuels.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently set new goals for biofuel use in both military and commercial airplanes, and experts say these objectives might mean an opportunity for Indiana’s biofuel industry to cash in.

By 2018, the USDA hopes to replace one billion gallons of the petroleum-based fuel currently used in commercial planes with biofuel. The Air Force alone wants to replace half of its petroleum jet fuel with biofuel by 2016.

Traditional corn-based ethanol can’t directly substitute for jet fuels. Instead, the government is looking at cellulosic fuel sources, such as grasses, corn stover, and forest biomass.

Cary Aubrey is a Program Manager for Bioenergy Development at the Indiana Department of Agriculture. He says the cellulosic biofuel industry is young, and the technology must catch up before alternative fuels can be put into widespread use.

“As soon as the technology comes, then we’ll start to see more opportunity for some of these energy grasses and different forms,” Aubrey says.

When the industry does gain a strong footing, Purdue agricultural economics professor Wallace Tyner says Indiana has a wealth of biomass to provide for the new fuel.

“We’re ideally positioned for it, we’re a major corn producer, and corn stover is the least expensive raw material for cellulosic biofuels,” he says. “We also have plenty of land that can be used for poplar trees, or for miscanthus, or for switchgrass, which are other major cellulosic biofuel sources.”

The extent to which Indiana might profit from the new government goals largely depends on how much biofuel the government will need.

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