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Senator Thune Heralds New Cellulosic Ethanol Study

Study Confirms Swtichgrass Ethanol Yields Five Times More Energy than Required to Produce It

January 14, 2008

Washington, D.C. —  U.S. Senator John Thune commented today on a recent study conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of Nebraska, which found that switchgrass ethanol produces 540 percent more energy than is required to produce the fuel. In particular, for every unit of petroleum used to grow and process the switchgrass, 13.1 energy equivalent units of renewable fuel were produced. The study also concluded that switchgrass ethanol emits 94 percent less greenhouse gas emissions relative to regular gasoline.

"This study confirms the great potential cellulosic ethanol holds for our energy security and environment," said Thune. "Corn-based ethanol has brought millions of dollars into South Dakota's economy. Our state and other states in the Western Corn Belt are uniquely suited to benefit from the next generation of ethanol production as well. As we work to lessen our nation's dependence on foreign sources of energy, this study helps in underscoring the role that cellulosic feedstocks, such as switchgrass, could play in our nation's renewable energy production."

The study evaluated the net energy value and the environmental impact of cellulosic ethanol produced from swtichgrass, a prairie grass native to the upper Great Plains. The study was conducted on switchgrass that was harvested from ten farms in Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota. Farms near Ethan, Huron, Highmore, and Bristol, South Dakota, were selected for the study. Ongoing field trials indicate that switchgrass yields could increase dramatically in future years, which would make cellulosic ethanol production even more efficient.

Thune's Active Role in Energy Bills:
Senator Thune played an active role in enacting both the 2005 Energy bill which included a 7.5 billion gallon Renewable Fuel Standard, and the recently passed 2007 Energy Bill, which was signed into law on December 19, 2007. The 2007 Energy bill requires the production of 5.5 billion gallons of celluosic ethanol by 2015 and up to 21 billion gallons by 2022. The new Renewable Fuels Standard also doubles the amount of corn-based ethanol production over the next seven years.

Thune's Biofuels Innovation Program (BIP):
As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Senator Thune also authored the Biofuels Innovation Program, which is included in the Senate-passed Farm Bill and the House-passed Farm bill. This new program would jumpstart the cellulosic ethanol industry by providing incentives for the production of energy-dedicated crops. Although energy dedicated crops such as switchgrass hold tremendous potential, these crops take one to two years to establish. Senator Thune's program would pay producers for growing these crops while a local biorefinery is being constructed. After the biorefinery is operational, this program would provide a temporary producer payment for the transportation, harvest, and storage of the energy-dedicated crop.

As part of the Senate-passed Farm Bill, Senator Thune also secured $25 million in mandatory funding for the Sun Grant Initiative. Based at South Dakota State University, the Sun Grant Initiative is actively studying the development of various types of cellulosic feedstocks that could be used to produce ethanol.

The full study can be found at the following website: