Biofuels Challenge Act

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Washington Senator Maria Cantwell will shortly introduce a bill entitled the "Biofuels Challenge Act" which would allocate billions for biodiesel research and development. Specifically, it would call for the United States production of biofuels to reach 20 billion gallons by the year 2020.

Cantwell's Web site says the "20/20 Biofuels Challenge Act" will invest in new sources of home-grown fuel that can help wean the American economy off its foreign oil addiction. A recent Department of Energy study estimated that America 's dependence on foreign oil will cost the economy more than $150 billion this year.

Biofuels are liquid transportation fuels such as biodiesel or ethanol, which are produced from plant matter rather than petroleum. They are often blended with traditional fossil fuels, but some vehicles can also run on pure biofuels. The most common source of ethanol is corn, while biodiesel can be produced from vegetable oils, animal fats or even recycled cooking grease.

Cantwell also says that in 2004, the U.S. produced about 3.4 billion gallons of ethanol, and had biodiesel production capacity of about 150 million gallons. But in order to ramp up production of biofuels and make them an important part of the nation's energy supply, it's urgently necessary to expand the types of crops and materials that can be used. Today, 90 percent of ethanol production is based on corn, and comes from just five Midwestern states. The goal of Cantwell's 20/20 Biofuels Challenge Act is to accelerate the development of new technologies that will allow more efficient conversion of many different materials to biofuels—including grapeseed (canola) and wheat straw, which are grown in Washington state.

[by Justin Thomas]