December 17, 2005

Biomass as Feedstocks for a Bioenergy and Bioproducts Industry: The Technical Feasibility of a Billion-Ton Annual Supply

Published on the U.S. Department of Energy's Bioenergy Feedstock Information Network (BFIN) website is a factual report of the biomass potential of the United States from agricultural and forestry sources. It contains charts and graphs analyzing and organizing the major categories of resources available. While many critics of ethanol as a longterm solution to U.S. liquid fuel needs point to the limits of corn availability to supply sugar fermentation in sufficient quantity, this report accepts the broader view that all biomass, including what we consider agricultural and forestry waste, will be convertible to ethanol through emerging production processes.


Biomass as Feedstocks for a Bioenergy and Bioproducts Industry: The Technical Feasibility of a Billion-Ton Annual Supply

Biomass is already making key energy contributions in the United States, having supplied nearly 2.9 quadrillion Btu (quad) of energy in 2003. It has surpassed hydropower as the largest domestic source of renewable energy. Biomass currently supplies over 3 percent of the total energy consumption in the United States — mostly through industrial heat and steam production by the pulp and paper industry and electrical generation with forest industry residues and municipal solid waste (MSW). In addition to the many benefits common to any renewable energy use, biomass is particularly attractive because it is the only current renewable source of liquid transportation fuel. This, of course, makes it an invaluable way to reduce oil imports — one of our nation’s most pressing energy and security needs. Biomass also has great potential to provide heat and power to industry and to provide feedstocks to make a wide range of chemicals and materials or bioproducts.

The overall mission of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) is to strengthen the nation’s energy security, environmental quality, and economic vitality in public-private partnerships that enhance energy efficiency and productivity; bring clean, reliable and affordable energy technologies to the marketplace; and make a difference in the everyday lives of Americans by enhancing their energy choices and their quality of life.

The purpose of this report is to assess whether the land resources of the United States have the potential to produce a sustainable supply of biomass that can displace 30 percent of the country’s current petroleum consumption.

This study found that the combined forest and agriculture land resources have the potential of sustainably supplying much more than one-third of the nation’s current petroleum consumption. Forest lands, and in particular, timberlands, have the potential to sustainably produce close to 370 million dry tons of biomass annually.

Agricultural lands can provide nearly 1 billion dry tons of sustainably collectable biomass and continue to meet food, feed and export demands. This estimate includes 446 million dry tons of crop residues, 377 million dry tons of perennial crops, 87 million dry tons of grains used for biofuels, and 87 million dry tons of animal manures, process residues, and other residues generated in the consumption food products.

In the context of the time required to scale up to a large-scale biorefinery industry, an annual biomass supply of more than 1.3 billion dry tons can be accomplished with relatively modest changes in land use and agricultural and forestry practices.

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