Harvesting plants such as switchgrass, planting winter crops such as barley and rye on unused fields and planting fast-growing trees like willow and poplar hold the potential to create more than 18,000 jobs and 500 million gallons of fuel, enough to supply the Washington metro area for six weeks, according to the report issued Wednesday by the Chesapeake Bay Commission and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.
Penn State researcher Tom Richard said the report calls for "using the land more intensively, but in an ecologically sound and environmentally beneficial way."
Cover crops and perennial grasses such as switchgrass can control erosion, absorb excess fertilizer from idle farm fields and capture carbon dioxide as they grow, said Richard, director of the Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment and a member of the biofuels advisory panel that produced the report.
However, the fuel would not be cost-competitive at first with fossil fuels and state governments would have to work to attract processors, the report's authors said in a conference call.
"We're dealing somewhat with a chicken and egg situation," said Bill Matuszeski, a former head of the Environmental Protection Agency's Chesapeake Bay Program office, who helped produce the report.
Farmers won't grow biofuel feedstocks without a market, and processors won't come in without a steady supply, Matuszeski said.
"That's where the states can come in and really help," Matuszeski said.
The group also issued a series of recommendations in its report to aid the development of the sector, including setting regional and state production goals, developing harvest guidelines, avoiding the introduction of invasive species and creating a regional council for bioenergy development.