An 11-year-old asked President Obama in a town-hall meeting this week in Atkinson, Illinois, “I was wondering, what are you going to do to keep (my grandpa’s) ethanol plant running,” among other questions posed to the president. President Obama said in response, “I think those of you know that when I was a state Senator, when I was a United States Senator, I was a strong supporter of biofuels.  I continue to be a strong supporter of biofuels.  Tom Vilsack, as our Agriculture Secretary, continues to be a strong supporter of ethanol and biofuels.  I will say that the more we see the science, the more we want to find ways to diversify our biofuels so that we’re not just reliant on corn-based ethanol.  Now, we can do more to make corn-based ethanol more efficient that it is, and that’s where the research comes in.  And, there are some wonderful research facilities in our own University of Illinois system that have done a lot to advance the science on this.”

President Obama continued by saying that, “if you’re in livestock farming, right now the costs of feed keep on going up and the costs of food as a consequence are also going up….as folks in China and folks in India start wanting to eat more meat and commodity prices start going up, it’s going to be important for us to figure out how can we make biofuels out of things that don’t involve our food chain.”

Obama also outlined a plan announced by his administration this week saying that $510 million would be spent to subsidize the production of biofuels not made from corn, an effort to encourage commercial development of a sector that has not grown as fast as policymakers had anticipated.  The funding would cover the costs of constructing or retrofitting refineries for so-called advanced biofuels. made from animal waste, algae, or other materials.  The Obama administration is hoping to solicit proposals from the private sector by the end of this year, asking investors to put up at least $1 for every federal dollar they receive.

Meanwhile, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said this week that “The U.S. Navy stands ready to purchase the fuel as part of a commitment to get 50 percent of its energy from non-fossil fuel sources by 2020.

However, Representative Collin Peterson (D-MN)  said in an interview with the Duluth News Tribune (Minnesota)  “I think that is a big problem.  It is just another competition for us in ethanol that we don’t need really.”  Peterson, who is the Ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, told the newspaper that the plan administration officials announced this week probably will not work and threatens Minnesota’s 21 ethanol plants.  “The cost to build production plants to make the fuel and to keep them going would be prohibitive,” Peterson said.  “If an ethanol plant cost $200 million to build,” he said, “it would take another $300 million to retrofit it to produce drop-in fuel.  At the same time, production would be just two–thirds what the ethanol plant produced.”