A Call to Farms: Diversify the Fuel Supply

By Henry, Mark Murphey; Chaney, Nathan Price et al. | South Dakota Law Review, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview

A Call to Farms: Diversify the Fuel Supply


Henry, Mark Murphey, Chaney, Nathan Price, Hopkins, Adam L., South Dakota Law Review


All the world is waiting for a substitute to gasoline. When that is gone, there will be no more gasoline, and long before that time, the price of gasoline will have risen to a point where it will be too expensive to burn as a motor fuel. The day is not far distant when, for every one of those barrels of gasoline, a barrel of alcohol must be substituted. (1)

I. INTRODUCTION

Using corn as the primary ingredient for biofuels has several unintended consequences on the agricultural industry as a whole, and the resulting shortage of corn for food and livestock purposes has negatively influenced market prices for both. The regional nature of corn ethanol production also serves to logistically and seasonally restrict a reliable and robust nationwide ethanol industry. These fact, necessitate a long-term plan to shift away from comas the exclusive crop for ethanol and move toward a broader base of raw materials for not merely ethanol production, but bioenergy production in general. Technology is the key to making the biofuel industry work for America, and ownership of such technology Will be a threshold issue. Indeed, the owners of pioneering technology Will dictate the way in which bioenergy ultimately develops over the next decade.

The technological advancements required for biofuel diversification have three key components. First, there is the development or identification of new crops high in organic mass for energy production. Second, there is the creation of novel methods of processing crops and other biomass to efficiently refine an expansive may of biofuels including biodiesel and cellulosic ethanol. Third, there is the ability to reward plant researchers, process engineers, and chemists through the time-honored process of intellectual property protection, which could alleviate the high cost, of pioneering research and plot a course toward the eventual reduction in large federal subsidies to the biofuel industry. (2)

This article Will begin by identifying economic and ecologic problems of using corn as the primary feedstock in ethanol production and Will argue that diversity in bioenergy production is essential to reduce the adverse market consequences of relying upon com as the primary biomass source. The article will next reveal that inventions of the past concern both the petroleum industry and com ethanol industry. Therefore, a fundamental technology shift must occur if America is to move away from a dependence upon petroleum or upon com as the dominant biofuel feedstock. The authors will then identify promising alternative biofuel sources such as cellulosic ethanol, currently under study, including the use of multiple-purpose crops that can be used to graze livestock, attract wildlife, and generate biofuel. The authors then provide an overview of the subsidies and tax incentives the government has used to encourage ethanol production as well as policies designed to encourage the growth of bioenergy at a local, regional, and national level.

Next, the article discusses the relevance of intellectual property to this complex industry, where public and private entities vie against one another to discover new ways for solving the United States petroleum and foreign oil dependence. Furthermore, because public funding is a primary component of biofuel technology, the authors clarify public misconceptions about whether patents should protect inventions that are the fruit of taxpayer funding. Thereafter, the authors compare between federal, state, and local involvement in supporting biofuel research and funding over the last decade. Finally, to illustrate creative ways to find local support for biofuel, the article will introduce the reader to a small company's effort to vertically integrate its soybean seed breeding operation by increasing the demand for its soybean genetics and lowering the cost of biodiesel for local farmers.

II. THE PROBLEM OF CORN AS THE EXCLUSIVE SOURCE FOR BIOFUEL

While com traditionally served primarily as a food source and export product, (3) the trend over the past thirty years has been to take advantage of overproduction by devoting more and more com to ethanol distillation. …

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