Agriculture, which along with oil/natural gas, entertainment and high-tech, is a mega-billion-dollar industry in California, has attracted state energy officials’ attention for its large appetite for natural gas, spawning efforts to increase efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from agricultural-related operations.

The California Energy Commission (CEC) recently authorized more than $18 million in natural gas, energy efficiency and alternative fuel grants to four separate programs, including $250,000 to San Francisco State University (SFSU) aimed at making the state’s $82 billion food/agricultural industry more energy efficient. It is part of the CEC’s natural gas research funding, making state funds available for public interest research/development projects.

California ranks fifth in the world in agricultural production, according to CEC officials. Agricultural operations in the state, including food processing, consume as much gas as 1.25 million households. State energy officials are eyeing ways to slash energy costs, increase efficiency and cut GHG emissions.

Under the newest grant, SFSU researchers will monitor food processing plants around the state, evaluating the equipment and practices and identifying strategies to improve performance and reduce energy costs.

The five-member CEC directed another $12.4 million in two grants for biofuel and hydrogen applications. Bakersfield-based Crimson Renewable Energy was awarded $4.4 million for its work in designing and operating an advanced commercial-scale a refinery converting low-value feedstocks from the food chain into biodiesel fuel through the state Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program (ARFVTP), which supports various projects involving natural gas vehicles, too.

First Element Fuel Inc. received $8 million in ARFVTP grants to build hydrogen fueling stations in four locations. “The stations will become part of the state’s growing network of publicly accessible hydrogen refueling stations for fuel cell electric vehicles,” a CEC spokesperson said.

Finally, CEC awarded $5.5 million in loans to two school districts and a public-sector utility for installation of three separate distributed energy solar photovoltaic systems.