As millions of Americans hit the road this summer, they are paying the most expensive gas prices in six years. This gasoline sticker shock was one more reminder of the need to develop an abundant and sustainable supply of alternative fuels.
That’s an issue that Enterprise has championed for nearly a decade. Since 2006, our owners, the Taylor family, and the Enterprise Holdings Foundation have given more than $35 million to the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and its Enterprise Rent-A-Car Institute for Renewable Fuels to help fund development of the next generation of alternative fuels. More recently, Enterprise established an endowment for sustainable energy research at the University of Missouri, where researchers also are achieving promising results in the field of biofuels.
This spring, I participated in a University of Missouri’s Biofuel Stakeholders Meeting. This gathering brought together plant science researchers, industry leaders and government officials to discuss our progress so far – and the work yet to be done – in creating a holistic approach to addressing energy needs through biofuel production.
During the meeting, Dr. Shibu Jose, director of the Center for Agroforestry at the University of Missouri, shared the progress he and his team are making on this front. Dr. Jose is the leader of the Mississippi/Missouri River Advanced Biomass/Biofuel Consortium (MRABC). It’s a team of more than 40 academic institutions and agricultural and energy companies that is working to turn the Missouri and Mississippi rivers into a “biomass corridor.”
Dr. Jose’s preliminary research indicates that approximately 116 million acres of land along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers are unsuitable for traditional food crops but ideal for growing biomass. He estimates that planting biomass crops on just five percent of this land could yield enough raw materials to produce seven billion gallons of biofuel. Enterprise’s endowment will provide essential funding as Dr. Jose takes the next steps toward a prototype bio-processing facility that will begin producing that fuel.
The demand for this type of technology came through loud and clear during the stakeholders meeting. For example, Chris Tindal, director of operational energy for the U.S. Navy, said his organization has set a goal of having 50 percent of the Navy’s energy needs met by alternative sources by 2020. And Larry Pionke, an associate technical fellow at Boeing, told us how volatile jet fuel costs are hurting the airline industry and underscored the growing need to develop sustainable jet fuel at a more stable price.
At Enterprise, we believe in the major role biofuels have to play in reducing both our carbon footprint and our dependence on foreign sources. The University of Missouri’s Biofuel Stakeholders Meeting is just one more example of how we are collaborating with outside partners to make transportation more sustainable. We look forward to sharing the results of that collaboration in the future.