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About energy efficiency and renewable energy

How the University of Minnesota is fueling Minnesota's future

Extension energy economist Doug Tiffany in a field of corn

Because the U.S. has a goal of producing 20 percent of its transportation fuels from renewable sources by 2030. Minnesota law requires utilities to use wind, sun and cleaner-burning fuels to produce 25 percent of the state's electricity by 2025.

University response: Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station research and University of Minnesota Extension help develop new methods to produce biofuels from agricultural crops and waste, forest and mill residues, animal residues, algae, fast-growing trees and plants, and municipal and industrial wastes.

Results:

The state of the U.S. alternative energy industry

Alternative and sustainable energy sources are critically needed for the United States. Currently, fossil fuels provide more than 85% of all the energy consumed in the United States, about two-thirds of our electricity, and nearly all of our transportation fuels. Plant biomass is being promoted to produce electricity, liquid fuels (ethanol and butanol), and heat, but bioenergy currently accounts for only three percent of the primary energy production in the United States.

The corn-based ethanol industry has experienced unprecedented growth demonstrating the potential of biofuel markets, first required to reduce tailpipe emissions and later targeted to replace national usage of imported petroleum. Current federal legislation caps the production of biofuels from corn and soybeans near current levels and requires the development of advanced biofuels and cellulosic ethanol from new technologies and non-traditional sources.

Alternative feedstocks for energy production, such as cellulosic biomass, are being proposed to meet energy demands while addressing key environmental and social issues. Successful cellulosic bioenergy industries will be dependent on the development of efficient conversion technologies, a robust supply of feedstock in known quantity and quality, and equitable financial incentives for producers and landowners. Bioenergy production facilities have been modeled to help understand economic viability for feedstock providers and those who seek to profitably convert these diverse sources to bioenergy.

Cellulosic feedstocks that have been identified include agriculture crop residues from small grain and corn; dedicated energy crops such as switchgrass, willow, hybrid, poplar, and native prairies; and forest residue. Perennial biomass crops are especially exciting as feedstock for production of biofuels and valuable co-products while increasing biological diversity on the landscape, conserving soil and water resources, maintaining ecosystem productivity and health, and balancing the global carbon cycle.

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