Research and Education Priorities in Agriculture, Forestry and Energy to Achieve the 25×'25 Renewable Energy Vision1

By Acker, Duane | NACTA Journal, March 2008 | Go to article overview

Research and Education Priorities in Agriculture, Forestry and Energy to Achieve the 25×'25 Renewable Energy Vision1


Acker, Duane, NACTA Journal


Abstract

This paper lists the high priority research and education foci, as identified by a variety of public and private sector scientists who provided input, in order to achieve the vision, that "by 2025, America's farms, ranches and forests will provide 25% of the total energy consumed in the United States, while continuing to provide safe, abundant and affordable food, feed and fiber."

The benefits of renewable energy are many: water, geothermal, wind and solar energy conversion contribute to reduced atmospheric carbon, biomass conversion to transportation fuels enhances national security by reducing dependence on imported petroleum, and all contribute to the economic vitality of rural America. The priorities reflect that scientists recognize major logistic challenges, especially linking energy source to locations and patterns of energy consumption, and the massive biomass requirement for significant production of transportation fuel.

Highest research priorities include modeling of systems to mesh variable wind and solar generated electricity with other sources; assessing the relative efficiencies of multiple biological and thermochemical technologies in yielding consumable energy forms (ethanol, biodiesel, gasoline, syn-gas, bio-oil, or other biofuels); increasing per acre biomass yields and the processing efficiency traits of grasses, woody species, and grains while holding neutral or enhancing impacts on soil, water and the environment; and modeling systems for efficient handling of the biomass volume.

Highest education priorities include insuring that faculty are equipped to transmit cutting edge knowledge to the next generation of scientists, professionals and business leaders, curriculum development, and aggressive extension education that conveys knowledge and research output to policy leaders, conversion industry workers, biomass producers and the general public.

The paper recommends that national and state policy makers fund and encourage this research and education and that university and federal agency leadership increasingly focus resources and staff on the listed priorities.

Introduction

The current energy situation presents the United States and the world with both challenges and opportunities, especially for the U.S. agriculture and forestry sectors. It is evident these sectors can make a major contribution to reducing U.S. dependence on imported and fossil energy sources and, in so doing, enhance the country's economic security, move toward atmospheric carbon balance and bring more economic activity to much of rural America. Energy markets - including transportation fuels, electricity, and natural gas - are growing, and global competition for energy resources will only increase.

The greatness of the United States has always been its ability to cultivate human ingenuity and apply it to developing new technologies that will enhance the human condition. The agricultural and forestry sectors are prime examples of this greatness. Advances in plant and animal sciences have led to ever increasing production, resulting in more abundant and affordable food and other products. Though less dramatic, there have been parallel advances in the knowledge base for maintaining and enhancing soil and water quality and decreasing energy consumption per unit yield.

A 28-member steering committee of agriculture and forestry leaders has advanced the vision, "By the year 2025, America's farms, ranches and forests will provide 25% of the total energy consumed in the United States, while continuing to provide safe, abundant and affordable food, feed, and fiber." Rural land not only provides biomass for transportation and other fuels, the rural land is where much of the solar and wind energy capture will occur. Unstated in this vision, but assumed as a basic premise for achieving it, is that the natural resource base (soil, water, and biological diversity) and atmospheric environment can and will be preserved or enhanced in the process. …

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