More Than 2,800 delegates from 119 countries, along with nearly 3,000 other attendees, took part in the Washington International Renewable Energy Conference (WIREC). Government officials and energy experts discussed concrete ways their countries could develop renewable energy, promote sustainable development, and reduce greenhouse emissions.

Participating at the event in Washington DC March 4-6 were several vehicle manufacturers, including GE, Nissan, Toyota, and Volvo. Volvo presented seven renewable fuel-powered trucks, along with a hybrid electric truck. It also sponsored two seminars, one on renewable fuels for CO2-neutral road transport and the other on alternative fuels and alternative drivelines. (See article on page 34.)

In his speech to the meeting, President George W Bush addressed the US strategy for reducing oil use in America, discussed current initiatives to increase energy efficiency and renewable energy use, and committed $2 billion over the next three years to create an international clean energy technology fund that would help developing countries finance renewable energy projects.

“Over the past seven years — or since I have been the President, the federal government spent more than $12 billion to research, develop, and promote alternative energy sources,” he said.

In noting the importance of renewable and alternative energy technologies to increase America's energy security and address the long-term challenge of global climate change, Bush stated: “The more sources of energy we have, the less influence any one of them, such as oil, has over the United States' security and prosperity. Renewable energies are some of the most promising new sources for energy because they are clean and because their supply can be regenerated.”

Confronting climate change through investment in renewable fuels and energy was a recurring message throughout WIREC.

Biofuels

The Renewable Fuels Mandate, contained in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, will increase the use of renewable fuels by 500 percent, the President said. “The legislation requires fuel producers to supply at least 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel by the year 2022.”

He cited biodiesel as “the most promising renewable fuel” because it can be produced from soybeans and other vegetable oils, including such waste products as recycled cooking grease.

Last year, the US produced about 450 million gallons of biodiesel — up 80 percent from 2006. Today, more than 650 biodiesel fueling stations and hundreds of fleet operators use biodiesel to fuel their trucks.

The nation's ethanol production has quadrupled from 1.6 billion gallons in 2000 to an estimated 6.4 billion gallons in 2007, said Bush, with the vast majority coming from corn. “In 2005, the United States became the world's leading ethanol producer, and last year, we accounted for nearly half of worldwide ethanol production.”

The Bush Administration also is investing in next generation biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol that can be produced from plant wastes: corn stalks, rice straw, wood chips, and other agriculture products. While chemically identical to ethanol produced from corn or soybeans, cellulose ethanol exhibits a net energy content higher than corn ethanol and emits a low net level of greenhouse gases.

The US Department of Energy has dedicated about $1 billion since 2001 to develop technologies that can make cellulosic ethanol cost-competitive. Since then, the projected cost of cellulosic ethanol has dropped by more than 60 percent.

Incentives

Expanding the use of biofuels requires getting more vehicles on the road that use alternative fuels, said Bush. “We expect the private sector to respond. Consumers are going to demand flex-fuel vehicles when they find out that these new technologies are available. As a matter of fact, there's 5 million flex-fuel vehicles on our roads now.

“Another way to reduce the nation's dependence on oil is promote hybrid vehicles,” he continued. “We're providing tax incentives to buy these fuel-efficient vehicles, and nearly a million of them are on the road today.”

Hydrogen

The Bush Administration is a strong supporter of hydrogen. Over the past five years, it has invested about $1.2 billion in hydrogen research and development to help bring hydrogen fuel cell vehicles to market. These vehicles use no gasoline at all and emit clean, pure water.

“We spent about $1.2 billion in research and development to bring vehicles running on hydrogen to the market,” Bush noted.

Hydrogen-powered vehicles are “an amazing opportunity for us. This will be a long-term opportunity, compared to ethanol and biodiesel and hybrids, but it makes sense to invest now and work on the technology so that when it becomes cost-competitive, it's available.”

Bush said the US Environmental Protection Agency is working with fuel producers to increase the amount of renewable fuels used in the US to 36 billion gallons by 2022.

This year's WIREC is the third global ministerial-level conference on renewable energy, following events in Beijing in 2005 and Bonn in 2004. The next conference is set for 2010 in India.