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February 24, 2006   Email to Friend 

Darryal Ray
(334) 613-4187
February 24, 2006

Auburn President Ed Richardson and Sen. Jeff Sessions discuss energy options in switchgrass field at E.V. Smith Research Center.
SHORTER, Ala. -- Saying the nation's dependence on foreign oil compromises America's national security, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Mobile) praised President Bush's alternative energy initiative -- and Alabama's potential role in ethanol production -- at a bioenergy conference hosted by Auburn University underneath a tent at the E.V. Smith Research Center in Shorter on Thursday.

"We do not need to be continually dependant on this much of our energy from foreign countries, many of whom are hostile to our interests, many of whom are unstable and could leave us in a critical lurch at a time that could affect our very national security," said Sessions. " So how do you respond to that? Ethanol is a big part of it."

Noting that the energy bill passed last year requires 7.5 billion gallons of ethanol to be part of the nation's economy by 2012, Sessions said Alabama could help meet that target.

"Alabama can be a big player in that," Sessions told the crowd, which also included Congressman Mike Rogers and state Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks. "We have tremendous wood products. We have tremendous agricultural capability. We have rain, and we have a lot of sunlight and products like switchgrass and can capitalize on those. ..."

"They can really make a difference in this country," said Sessions. "It's something that I believe that will happen, has got to happen, and nothing could please me more than to see our state be a leader in that transformation."

In his State of the Union address last month, President George Bush proposed additional research funding to produce ethanol, "not just from corn, but from wood chips, and stalks, and switchgrass."

Bush's remarks not only stirred excitement among Alabama farmers and timber growers who stand to benefit from this potential market, but also prompted Auburn University President Ed Richardson to liken the initiative to the moon race of the 1960s.

"We may be out in the middle of a field, under a tent, the ground may be wet but I anticipate that what we're about to announce will not only change the direction for agriculture in many parts of this state, but change, in my view, the mission of agriculture for Auburn University," said Richardson.

Dr. David Bransby, a professor of agronomy and soils at Auburn University, was likewise optimistic and sought to convince attendees that ethanol could be produced from a wide range of biomass materials, not just switchgrass but also from timber and from the almost 2 million tons of poultry litter produced in the state each year.

"Hopefully, by the time you leave here today, you won't have any doubts in your mind," said Bransby. "I've been real disappointed in the number of naysayers out there. As President Richardson said, this country put people on the moon 40 years ago. That was way more technologically difficult than what they're trying to do."

Dr. Douglas Faulkner, assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy office, noted that the Bush Administration has mandated the country get 30 percent of its transportation fuel from biomass by 2030.

A recent USDA study, Bransby said, indicates America can produce a billion tons of biomass each year, enough to reach the 30 percent target. "That would replace everything that comes out of the Middle East and more," said Bransby. "And this is what they have found -- forestry could produce about 368 million tons and ag almost a billion on its own. So the two together, about 1.3 billion tons. So that's very achievable."

Bransby's talk included several frequently asked questions, including "Can we rely on farmers to deliver biomass consistently?"

"Quite honestly, that question irritates me," said Bransby. "It really does. I often respond sarcastically and say, 'Have you ever sat down at night and had no food on the table?' American farmers are among the most innovative people in the world. If you give them a fair market, they will deliver. There's no question in my mind."

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