Enough biofuel feedstock identified for 85 billion gallons a year

By Erin Voegele | August 15, 2011

The U.S. DOE has released an update of the “Billion Ton Study.” The original study, published in 2005, ultimately determined that the 1 billion tons of terrestrial biomass can be sourced from U.S. lands on an annual basis. The updated report, titled “2011 U.S. Billion-Ton Update: Biomass Supply for a Bioenergy and Bioproducts Industry,” details the potential for biomass production nationwide and examines the ability to produce this much dry biomass without impacting the production of other farm and forest products.

According to the DOE, the 2005 report aimed to determine whether or not the U.S. had the potential to produce 1 billion tons of biomass sustainably. This is the amount of biomass needed to replace approximately 30 percent of the nation’s current petroleum consumption. While the study provided a great deal of useful information, the agency notes it presented several shortcomings. For example, the estimates were not restricted by price. All potentially available biomass was included even though some of it would likely be too expensive to procure and use. In addition to updating the 2005 analysis, the new report also addresses several of these shortcomings. Specially, the updated study includes a special county-by-county inventor of primary feedtocks, price and available quantities for individual feedstocks, and a more rigorous treatment and modeling of resource sustainability.

Information included in the report further specifies that some significant changes have been made in the underlying assumptions and analytical approaches used to estimate the availability and price of biomass. “This updated analysis stresses the 2012 though 2030 time period and how it corresponds with the implementation of the Renewable Fuels Standard and other initiatives,” states the DOE in the report.

The updated report addresses two scenarios: a baseline and a high-yield scenario. The agency explains that the baseline scenario assumes a continuation of the DOE 10-year forecast for the major food and forage crops and extends the assumption out to 2030. The average annual increase in corn yields under the baseline scenario is slightly more than 1 percent over the 20-year period. Energy crop yields also assume a 1 percent annual increase. The high-yield scenario, however, reflects the assumptions used in the 2005 study. Under this scenario, corn yields are assumed to increase at almost 2 percent annually with energy crop productivity increases modeled at three different levels: 2 percent, 3 percent and 4 percent annually.

According to the DOE, the study provides industry, policymakers, and the agricultural community with county-level data, which includes analysis of current U.S. feedstock capacity as well as the potential for growth in crops and agricultural products for clean energy applications. With continued developments in biorefinery capacity and technology, the DOE estimates that the feedstock resources identified by the study could produce approximately 85 billion gallons of biofuel.

“Developing the next generation of American biofuels and bioenergy will help diversify our energy portfolio, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and produce new clean energy jobs,” said U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “This study identifies resources here at home that can help grow America’s bioenergy industry and support new economic opportunities for rural America.”

A full copy of the report can be downloaded from the DOE website