Billion-ton study update released

After six years, an update to the much-referenced Billion-Ton Study is here.
By Ron Kotrba | August 11, 2011

The U.S. DOE released its welcomed Billion-Ton Study update yesterday, the long-awaited revision of its original 2005 report detailing U.S. biomass feedstock potential nationwide. The report examines U.S. capacity to produce a billion dry tons of biomass annually for energy uses without impacting other farm and forest products like food, feed and fiber crops. The study provides industry, policymakers, and the agricultural community with county-level data and includes analyses of current U.S. feedstock capacity and the potential for growth in crops and agricultural products for clean energy applications. With continued developments in biorefinery capacity and technology, the feedstock resources identified could produce about 85 billion gallons of biofuels, enough to replace around 30 percent of current U.S. petroleum consumption.

The report supports the conclusion of the original 2005 Billion-Ton study with additional in-depth production and costs analyses and sustainability studies. The 2011 report uses more rigorous models and data analysis to test the feasibility of increasing biomass production. The update also conducts in-depth analyses of land-use changes and competition among food, feed, and energy crops.

No-till farming and crop rotation are included as ways to sustainably increase available biomass supplies. In some cases, increased production may contribute to environmental improvements by, for example, removing tree portions that are unfit for market in the forest industry can reduce forest fire risk, and planting energy crops on marginal lands can reduce soil erosion. The baseline scenario shows that biomass resources could be increased from a current 473 million dry tons annually to nearly 1.1 billion dry tons by 2030 under a conservative set of assumptions about future increases in crop yield.