Human Infrastructure & the U.S. Biofuel Industry

What type of human infrastructure will be required to support increased use of biofuels? — Jennifer R. in Michigan

Rapid growth of biofuel production requires an assessment of what is needed in different areas of our country, as some areas may have a rich agriculture or forestry history providing differing components of infrastructure useful for the supply of biofuels. However, not all of these areas are the same nor will they need the same type of infrastructure components. For this reason, a national biomass assessment and a series of regional/state biomass assessments will be needed. Specific attention should be paid to the knowledge base of local universities, the USDA Extension Service, and the amount of technical and business expertise available locally. Diversifying the agriculture industry to include biofuels will foster a variety of jobs. Equipment dealers or other service providers as well as farmers might need to be trained on how to use and maintain new equipment. Equipment may need to be developed, new storage facilities will be required, and they will need service and maintenance. High-tech tanks for anaerobic digestion will need service providers with technical expertise. Truck drivers, barge captains and crews, and rail personal will be needed for the production and transport of feedstocks and biofuels. Increased biofuels production will evolve with the development of biorefineries which will use new feedstocks and technologies to create a variety of co-products. Permitting, building, inspecting, servicing, and managing high-tech biorefineries will create new jobs. Construction of the facility will need skilled workers and engineers familiar with new technologies. Biorefineries will need scientists, engineers and managers to run them. State and local agencies will need increased capacity and new regulations or permitting processes to allow for an easy transition to these new biorefineries. As many have pointed out, the increased number of jobs in our rural communities for the production of biofuels will have significant positive impacts on economic development. However these jobs do not just appear. Students, professionals and farmers will need a toolbox of educational opportunities to build on the momentum of the biofuels industry. Land grant universities, community colleges and technical schools will also play an important role in training and certifying the skills of this new growing workforce. Curriculum development for students in K-12, college and graduate schools should be adapted to include bioenergy technologies, biochemistry and other hard sciences. Graduate level grants for students working in the bioenergy field should also be encouraged. Farmers can be at the forefront of this revolution — utilizing the commodities they grow, and even the waste streams they now must dispose of, in innovative new ways to produce power, transportation fuels, and a new generation of bio-based products and chemicals. Land grant universities and the USDA Extension Service must be assessed for their ability to address the new needs of the growing biofuels industry. If we are not proactive, the U.S. could very well lose new biomass technologies to other countries, including EU nations, Japan as well as India and China — and be in the circumstance of having to ‘import’ or license the technologies back to the United States. However, incentives to bring these technologies to our rural communities, while utilizing American ingenuity, can make the United States competitive with other countries, which are sprinting ahead in these fast growing biomass industries.
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