US - The US Department of Energy's (DOE) Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy is welcoming comments on its Engineered High Energy Crop (EHEC) program's draft environmental impact statement.
The statement assesses the possible environmental impacts associated with the DOE's intention to trial the effectiveness of EHECs in several southeastern US states, reports NNFCC.
According the DOE, EHECs are agriculturally-viable photosynthetic species containing genetic material that has been intentionally introduced through biotechnology, interspecific hybridization, or other engineering processes. The crops are specifically engineered to produce more energy per acre by producing fuel molecules that can be easily introduced into existing energy infrastructure.
The DOE's notice, published on the Federal Register, says that a main part of the proposed programs would be providing funding in order to conduct field trials to test the performance of EHECs in some southeastern states.
The funds will be available to recipients such as research institutions, independent contract growers or commercial companies to conduct confined field trials. These trials could include: development-scale trials of up to five acres, pilot-scale trials of up to 250 acres and demonstration-scale trials of up to 15,000 acres. However such trials can only go ahead under strict conditions to make sure that EHECs do not unintentionally spread elsewhere.
The states included in the trials will include North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Tennesse, Alabama, Georgia, Missippi, Kentucky and some parts of Florida. These states usually have short, mild winters and growing seasons of at least six months, which provide ideal growing conditions for EHECs. The DOE says that the program could be expanded to other states if needed at a later date.
Examples of EHECs that could be used in the confined field trials include crops which are being investigated under ARPA-E's PETRO program, which looks at plants engineered to replace oil. These include engineered varieties of switchgrass, sorghum, giant cane, sugarcane, miscanthus, camelina, tobacco and loblolly pine.
The DOE is inviting comments on the draft PEIS notice until 17 March 2015. There will be a public hearing to discuss the program on 17 February in Washington D.C. and also two webinars on 24 and 26 February. For further information visit the DOE's EHEC PEIS website.
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