Obama: increase CCS, biofuels production

The Obama Administration is taking steps to accelerate US development of clean coal technology and creating new programmes to dramatically grow biofuels production.

President Obama, speaking Wednesday at the White House, repeated many of the themes from his State of the Union address a week ago linking clean and domestic energy with economic growth.

“I am convinced that America can win the race to build a clean energy economy, but we’re going to have to overcome the weight of our own politics,” he says, an allusion to the sharp disagreement on policies to cap US greenhouse gas emissions. “We have to focus not so much on those narrow areas where we disagree, but on the broad areas where we agree.”

Obama created a Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Task Force with a mandate of “figuring out how we can deploy affordable clean coal technology on a widespread scale within 10 years”. Specifically, he wants to see 10 commercial demonstration projects running by 2016.

One of the leading CCS projects, FutureGen, gained momentum last week when utility giant Exelon joined up.

Obama says his administration “is following a non-ideological approach to this issue”, citing support for efficiency, clean energy, offshore drilling, nuclear power and coal, “our most bountiful natural resource here in the United States”.

“[T]raditional sources of energy are going to continue to be important for a while so we’ve got to just use technologies to make them cleaner and more efficient,” he says.

Obama met at the White House on Wednesday with state governors and key members of his cabinet, including Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson.

Biofuels goal

The president pledged to double US biofuels production to 36bn gallons (136.3bn litres) by 2022 – the target set by Congress – decreasing the country’s dependence on foreign oil. The US is not currently on course to hit that goal, however.

Obama announced efforts to correct that.

First, the EPA finalized a rule on a national Renewable Fuels Standard that will focus on ‘advanced biofuels’ and require some fuels to have net greenhouse gas emission reductions relative to gasoline and diesel in order to be counted toward the standard. (California’s new low-carbon fuels standard was challenged in court earlier this week; opponents have said it is in conflict with national efforts.)

A second initiative focuses on bioenergy feed-stocks. The proposed Biomass Crop Assistance Program provides loans, grants and other support to help farmers harvest, store and transport crops to conversion facilities.

A Biofuels Interagency Working Group, chaired by Vilsack and Chu, released a report detailing other government supports for the industry. The report finds the US is "producing 12 billion gallons per year of biofuels, mostly from corn grain ethanol, but we are not on a trajectory to reach the Congressional 36 billion gallons per year goal by 2022 or to meet the 100 million gallons cellulosic biofuels target in 2010."

Obama mentioned additional bioenergy efforts, including forest biomass for heat, power and biofuels. He also repeated his support for other renewable energy sources.

“We’re going to also have to develop new sources of energy that allow us to take advantage of sun, wind, our coastlines, and in ways that over time can actually enhance our standards of living, create jobs, and also protect our environment.”

Vice President Joe Biden, also on hand Wednesday, says the federal government under Obama’s watch has channelled $80bn to clean energy, which has leveraged $70bn from other sources.

“A little more than a third of that money is out the door, and it’s already saved and created somewhere in the area of over 10,000 jobs, to go to your point about it's not just about the environment; this is a job creator,” Biden says.

The nation is on track to have 19 commercial-scale biofuel refineries by 2012 and five power plants capturing carbon by 2015, he says.

Clean coal technology, Biden continues, can be exported to China.