Weekly Column of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) - Producing Clean Energy in Tennessee

Posted on October 19, 2008

We must find ways to use less foreign oil and clean up our environment, which are two of the most pressing challenges of the 21st. Tennessee is playing a lead role in both these areas with groundbreaking research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and a new biorefinery being built in Vonore. Last Tuesday, a partnership between the University of Tennessee (UT) Research Foundation and DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol (DDCE) began construction on a new biorefinery at the Niles Ferry Industrial Park in Vonore to produce ethanol from non-edible plants like switchgrass, which could grow all across our state. (DDCE is a joint venture between DuPont and the biotechnology division of Danisco, one of the world’s leading producers of ingredients for food and other consumer products.) This new biorefinery will draw on UT’s expertise in using non-edible plants as the raw materials to create cellulosic ethanol and its work with Tennessee farmers to grow switchgrass to be a dedicated cellulosic energy crop. It will also benefit from the new Farm Bill I supported, which became law in June, that shifts the focus from producing alternative fuels from crops we eat to crops we don’t eat by reducing the tax credit for corn ethanol and giving a more generous tax credit to produce cellulosic ethanol. The facility is expected to produce 250,000 gallons of ethanol annually, and will begin producing by the end of 2009. To achieve clean energy independence, we need the help of great scientists like we have in Oak Ridge, so that we can start using less oil and stop sending hundreds of billions of dollars each year to oil-producing countries that are funding terrorists who want to kill us. As I said in May at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, we need a new Manhattan Project to help us achieve clean energy independence. This sort of plan would put funding for science and research front and center so that we can find sustainable alternative sources of energy. Instead of ending a war by building an atomic bomb, which was the goal of the original Manhattan Project, the goal of the new Manhattan Project will be clean energy independence – so that we can deal with skyrocketing gasoline prices, soaring electricity prices, clean air, climate change, and national security – for our country first, and because other countries have the same urgent needs and therefore will adopt our ideas – for the rest of the world. We should begin by exploring for more of the oil and natural gas that the United States already has. But to lower gasoline prices and reduce our dependence on foreign oil, we must also look for more ways to reduce our use of oil. Producing biofuels from inedible plants like switchgrass is part of the solution, but there are other things we can and must do. As part of this new Manhattan Project, I’ve outlined 7 grand challenges to help America achieve clean energy independence: 1. Make plug-in electric cars and trucks commonplace. 2. Make carbon capture and storage a reality for coal-burning power plants. 3. Make solar power cost competitive with power from fossil fuels. 4. Safely reprocess and store nuclear waste. 5. Make advanced biofuels cost-competitive with gasoline. 6. Make new buildings green buildings. 7. Provide energy from fusion. All of these things are becoming more and more of a reality every day, and I’m proud that Tennessee is playing a leading role in this critical mission.