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The nation will need more than 500 new biorefineries to meet the goal of tripling biofuel consumption by 2022, according to a study released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The cost: $168 billion. 

The country’s goal is to use 36 billion gallons of biofuel a year by 2022, a level set by Congress in 2007. In 2009, the US produced 10.75 billion gallons of ethanol, primarily from corn. That level should get to 12 billion gallons this year, according to the USDA. By 2022, 21 billion gallons of biofuels is to come from sources other than corn.

Philip Brasher, in the Des Moines Register, has a good summary of the study and of the problems such expansion of the industry is likely to encounter. “Biofuel developers have proposed a range of facilities that would make ethanol from material as diverse as wood, garbage and corncobs, but few of the projects have gotten off the ground. Industry officials say it has become virtually impossible to find investors willing to put money into the projects,” Brasher wrote.

“Right now few if any banks are willing to work with biofuels,” said Matt Hartwig, a spokesman for the Renewable Fuels Association. Cellulosic ethanol plants would cost more than four times the cost of corn ethanol plants, according to USDA estimates.

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