August 30, 2006

Bio-crops May Be Created for Biofuels

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Biotechnology might be used to boost the energy output of crops used in making renewable fuels, a U.S. Agriculture Department advisory committee said on Wednesday, noting the sharp rise in demand for the fuels.

The rapidly growing U.S. fuel ethanol industry has the capacity to distill 4.8 billion gallons of the motor fuel this year, mostly from corn (maize). Federal law sets a target of using 7.5 billion gallons (28.4 billion liters) of renewable fuels annually by 2012.

"Crops with energy-specific traits may be developed to help meet the growing demands for renewable alternative fuels," said USDA's Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture in a report looking at possible paths for genetically modified crops in the coming decade.

It said genetic engineering could be used to add traits to food crops, such as corn and soybeans, and nonfood crops, like grasses and trees, to enhance energy production.

"The large-scale production of such energy crops could have tremendous implications for U.S. agricultural systems," said the report. "Bioenergy uses will be visible to consumers and their scale alone could raise concerns for them, although meeting bioenergy needs using genetically engineered crops could be seen by consumers as a benefit as well."