WASHINGTON, D.C. --- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack pledged this week that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will help the struggling ethanol industry identify more efficient ways to produce the fuel, Reuters reported.

The USDA needs to research, develop and promote best practices to improve efficiency at plants that produce corn-based ethanol, Vilsack said.

The corn-based ethanol industry has been hit hard by volatile corn prices and falling demand for biofuel. Last week, Panda Ethanol Inc. filed for bankruptcy for a plant it owns in Texas. VeraSun Energy Corp., the second-largest U.S.-based ethanol producer, filed for bankruptcy protection in October and has closed 12 of the company's 16 plants.

"We need to make sure that the biofuels industry has the necessary support to survive the recent downturn," Vilsack said during a press conference on Monday, Jan. 26. He added that his department needs to accelerate work on biofuels made from non-food plant sources.