Where will all that fuel come from? That’s the question farmers and landowners will be asked in coming years as the U.S. tries to figure out how to replace 36 billion gallons of oil-based fuel by 2025.

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA07) set into motion the federally mandated goal of reducing dependence on foreign oil. Provisions in the EISA07 will reduce crude oil categorically, imported crude oil specifically, and gasoline use emphatically. 

Gasoline use is a primary target and reducing fossil fuel use by 36 billion gallons over the next two decades is projected to play a key role in overall gasoline use.

Gasoline will be reduced in two ways. The increase in corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards will eventually reduce gasoline by about 1.1 million barrels per day in new cars and inserting 36 billion gallons per year of renewable fuels like ethanol will reduce gasoline use in all cars.

Farmers are already off-setting more than a third of the 36 billion gallons with more than 13 billion gallons of corn-based ethanol and over a half billion gallons of biodiesel, primarily from soybeans. By 2022 corn-based ethanol is expected to provide 15 billion gallons of fuel annually and biodiesel is expected to produce 1 billion.

The renewable fuels standard became effective July 1, 2010. It will provide tremendous opportunities for rural communities in the Southeast.

Some contend the Midwest is about maxed out in fuel production, without severely impacting grain crops grown for food and livestock feed. The next logical place to look is the Southeast.

Jim Frederick, Clemson University agronomist and driving force behind the annual South Carolina Biofuels Summit, says the USDA’s projection of 36 billion gallons of fuel needed to reduce greenhouse emissions and comply with federal legislation and be economically feasible to do, came from extensive surveying of experts from around the country.

These experts looked at the Southeast as having lots of forest residue on the ground, a favorable climate and land-base to grow biomass crops and a need to develop rural industries. Based on these observations they project that about half of the cellulosic biofuel production will come from the Southeast.

An important consideration is that future bioenergy not displace crops grown for food. In the Southeast, there is a favorable growing climate, plus a need to replace at least some of the traditional acreage, such as tobacco.