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Clean fuels can help drive Virginia’s economy

By Jeremy Martin and Craig Stuart-Paul – The Virginian-Pilot

Every week, the garbage truck collects your trash and carries it away to a landfill. Imagine if the driver took a different path and carried the waste to a refinery, to be turned into fuel that powers our cars, trucks and buses. This is not science fiction – it is happening today, in Lawrenceville.

That’s where Fiberight, an advanced biofuels company, has built a waste-to-fuel plant. The company will open a second facility in Iowa next year. It is among a number of companies breaking ground, building and operating advanced biofuel plants all over the country – bringing these cutting-edge technologies to commercial scale and producing jobs.

As the CEO of Fiberight and a scientific expert on renewable energy, we believe expanding the production of clean, domestic biofuels will create jobs in Virginia and help cut our oil use.

The potential is huge. About half of the waste we produce – not counting recyclables – can be turned into fuel. Companies like Fiberight have developed innovative methods to transform waste into advanced biofuels from fiber, and biogas from food and other waste (even diapers). In Virginia alone, there is enough municipal waste to create more than 400 million gallons of advanced biofuel each year. That’s enough to fuel almost half a million cars.

These next-generation biofuels, combined with oil-saving technologies like more efficient conventional vehicles and electric cars, can cut our projected oil use in half over the next 20 years and avoid the problems oil causes for our economy, environment, national security and climate.

The federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) is the single most important policy for biofuels, moving the nation toward the goals of energy security, fuel diversity and economic opportunity. It calls for increasing the use of biofuels, which will reduce oil use and provide incentives for the development of new technologies like those at work in Fiberight’s Lawrenceville plant.

According to recent analysis from the Union of Concerned Scientists, by 2030 the United States can annually and sustainably “harvest” enough agricultural waste, grasses and household trash to produce more than 54 billion gallons of ethanol (more than three times as much biofuel as the United States produced from corn in 2011).

When you add these other so-called “biomass” resources to the municipal waste available here in Virginia, we have the potential to produce the fuel needed to power 1.5 million vehicles.

Thanks to our commitment to American innovation and the RFS, today we are well-positioned to maximize the potential of these homegrown fuels. Domestic, renewable transportation fuel has strengthened America’s rural economies and communities, and making the transition to biomass-based fuels will take these opportunities to even more communities around the nation. It has also spurred billions of dollars of U.S. investment in new technology for advanced renewable fuel.

Renewable fuel and the RFS are driving economic growth and job creation across the country. We cannot put those jobs at risk. According to a recent report from Bio-era, the RFS advanced biofuels program would directly create 190,000 jobs. Total job creation could reach 800,000 jobs in all 50 states when the program is fully implemented.

These are jobs across the U.S. economy that include equipment manufacturers, farmers, transportation companies, rural co-ops, clean tech innovators, chemical engineers and construction firms.

Congress should maintain critical policies – like the RFS – and extend tax incentives for cellulosic biofuels that expire at the end of the year. Consistent policies will help ensure cellulosic biofuels made from wastes and other resources become a key part of America’s secure energy future.

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