Biomass Board release feedstocks report

By Susanne Retka Schill
Web exclusive posted Dec. 12, 2008 at 9:57 a.m. CST

Biomass feedstocks and their cost, sustainability and greenhouse gas impacts are the focus of an interagency report that outlines research priorities, and suggests that new technologies will be the linchpin to developing a sustainable biofuel industry to meet national goals.

The Biomass Research and Development Board released "Increasing Feedstock Production for Biofuels: Economic Drivers, Environmental Implications, and the Role of Research" on Dec. 4.

"Our national security, our economy and the future of the planet require that we explore the development of biofuels in a cost-effective, environmentally sound manner and that we move beyond food crops to include a diverse base of feedstocks," said Gale Buchanan, USDA Chief Scientist and Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics, who co-chairs the Biomass Research and Development Board. "This report addresses the constraints and implications of meeting our biofuel production goals and provides invaluable guidance for further research."

"In commissioning this report we tapped the talents of professionals across the federal government to address the economic feasibility and environmental implications of enhanced feedstock production," said board co-chair and Acting Assistant Secretary, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy John Mizroch. "We will continue promoting interagency cooperation in addressing constraints in developing biomass feedstocks to diversify our alternative fuels and cut greenhouse gas emissions."

The feedstocks report is one in a series of initiatives detailed in the interagency action plan unveiled by the Biomass Research and Development Board in October. The board, co-chaired by officials from the USDA and the U.S. DOE, coordinates the efforts of nine federal agencies and two executive-branch offices in advancing research and the development of biobased products and bioenergy.

The report addresses the uncertainty surrounding the use of additional feedstocks to meet the nation's biofuels goals – specifically, what types of feedstocks and at what prices, grown where, and with what implications for greenhouse gases and sustainability. The investigation was conducted through an analysis of scenarios for specific biofuel targets, and with alternative assumptions about key variables like crop productivity and input prices.

The report focuses on domestic impacts using two comprehensive models, the Regional Environment and Agriculture Programming (REAP) model for first-generation feedstocks and the Policy Analysis System (POLYSIS) model for second-generation biofuels. A forest sector model is linked to the POLYSYS model. Using the USDA baseline for 2007, which provides projections to 2016, the report looked at the supply, cost and impact on greenhouse gases and sustainability.

A number of research recommendations were made with the following given as priority research areas:
  • Research on feedstocks that reduce pressure on cropland

  • Research on a broad portfolio of feedstocks that offers geographic diversity and greater resilience

  • Research that targets sustainability and greenhouse gas emission reductions

  • Research that leads to feedstocks that are profitable for farmers and forest managers

  • Integrated models across agricultural, forestry and energy markets that allow for interactions between feedstock and biofuel markets

  • Data and models for evaluation of second-generation feedstocks

The 137-page report, "Increasing Feedstock Production for Biofuels: Economic Drivers, Environmental Implications, and the Role of Research," is available on the Biomass Research & Development Initiative Web site,