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The average fuel economy of new cars sold in the US went down in September. According to the University of Michigan Transportation Research (UMTRI), the average mileage was 25.3 mpg, down from 25.8 mpg in August. The dip is likely from increased sales of light trucks and SUVs. Still, the national average is up 5.2 mpg since UMTRI started tracking it in October 2007. The group's Eco-Driving Index measures average emissions per distance driven (with a lag of two months) and shows that figure at an all-time low in July of 2014. Read more at the UMTRI website, or get a little more analysis at Green Car Congress.

A third of drivers who don't already own hybrids would consider buying one, according to UMTRI research. The group also found that hybrid owners are happy with their cars, and most (to the tune of 83 percent) will continue to buy them. Of those, a third said they'll be purchasing a plug-in hybrid next, while three percent will opt for a fully electric vehicle. Thirty-three percent of hybrid buyers cited environmental impact as the reason for their purchase, with 28 percent choosing them for long-term costs and 25 percent to use less energy. Of the third of folks who aren't considering a hybrid, more than half would rethink it if the price was right. Read more from the University of Michigan.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is loaning $91 million for an advanced biofuel plant in Rapides Parish, Louisiana. Cool Planet, which will operate this facility, aims to produce an annual 8 million to 10 million gallons of reformate, a renewable fuel additive made from cellulosic material (pine chips, in this case). "USDA's support for renewable energy projects like this helps create jobs in rural areas, promotes US energy independence, and leads to further expansion of the growing and increasingly significant bioeconomy," says Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. The USDA loan is made possible by a part of the 2008 Farm Bill's Biorefinery Assistance Program. Learn more in the press release below.
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USDA Guarantees $91 Million Investment in Innovative Louisiana Biofuel Plant

Unique Partnership Will Create Jobs, Produce Advanced Domestic Fuel and Reduce Greenhouse Gases

BATON ROUGE, La., Oct. 3, 2014 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced a $91 million loan guarantee to help finance an innovative advanced biofuel plant in Rapides Parish, Louisiana.

"This partnership is the latest example of the Obama Administration's continuing support for innovative, home-grown energy sources," Vilsack said. "USDA's support for renewable energy projects like this helps create jobs in rural areas, promotes U.S. energy independence, and leads to further expansion of the growing and increasingly significant bioeconomy."

USDA has reached an agreement with Silicon Valley Bank to provide a $91 million Biorefinery Assistance Program loan guarantee to Cool Planet to help the company finish construction on a biofuel plant at the Port of Alexandria in Louisiana.

In addition to USDA's contribution, Cool Planet has attracted private investments from numerous companies, including Google Ventures, BP, ConocoPhillips, GE, Exelon and NRG Energy. Cool Planet will be contributing $50 million in equity to the project. USDA's agreement with Cool Planet represents a significant step forward in the government's public-private partnerships to produce renewable energy. As evidenced by Cool Planet's private sector backers, these plants are attracting attention from some of the country's largest lenders, in part because USDA is streamlining the Biorefinery Assistance Program process.

The Cool Planet facilities will produce approximately 8 million to 10 million gallons of reformate per year at full capacity. Often referred to as a "drop-in" fuel, reformate is an ingredient in gasoline and jet fuel that can be added during the regular refinery process. Many biofuels, like ethanol, are fuel additives that are instead blended into a finished product to oxygenate fuel. Reformate enhances the energy content of gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. Pine chips will be the feedstock source for the Cool Planet facility, but the company can use almost any type of renewable cellulosic material.

Another benefit of Cool Planet's facility is that it will produce biochar, a bioenergy byproduct that has been noted for its ability to sequester carbon and potentially reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas levels.

Early last month, Secretary Vilsack announced that USDA has issued a conditional commitment on a $105 million loan guarantee to Fulcrum Sierra Biofuels, LLC to build a biorefinery in Nevada to produce renewable jet fuel from municipal solid waste.

USDA has awarded conditional commitments for other plants in Florida, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina and Oregon. Sapphire Energy has paid off its USDA loan for a plant now operating in New Mexico.

USDA's loan commitment to Cool Planet is being financed from the remainder of the Biorefinery Assistance Program funds authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill. An additional project financed from these funds will be announced later this month. Congress reauthorized and extended the program in the 2014 Farm Bill. It also expanded the program to include bio-based renewable chemicals and bio-based product manufacturing.

The 2014 Farm Bill builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past five years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers. Since enactment, USDA has made significant progress to implement each provision of this critical legislation, including providing disaster relief to farmers and ranchers; strengthening risk management tools; expanding access to rural credit; funding critical research; establishing innovative public-private conservation partnerships; developing new markets for rural-made products; and investing in infrastructure, housing and community facilities to help improve the quality of life in rural America. For more information, visit www.usda.gov/farmbill.


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