US Department of Energy releases study of current and potential supplies of biomass feedstocks

The US Department of Energy is distributing U.S. Billion-Ton Update: Biomass Supply for a Bioenergy and Bioproducts Industry. This report is an assessment of the feasibility of producing a billion dry tons of biomass per year for energy and bioproducts in the United States. 

The original Billion-Ton Study was released in 2005. The update includes a spatial, county-by-county inventory of potentially available primary feedstocks.  It also provides estimates of price and available quantities for the individual feedstocks, using more rigorous models for resource sustainability.  The new report also analyzes land use changes and competition among food, feed, and energy crops.

According to the report, increases in biomass-derived energy sources can be produced sustainably using widely accepted conservation practices.  In some cases, increased production may even contribute to environmental improvements. For example, thinning over-stocked forests can help reduce wildfire risk, and planting energy crops on marginal croplands can reduce soil erosion.

The report indicates that currently used and potential biomass resources in the contiguous United States could increase from 0.5 to 1.1 billion dry tons/year between 2012 and 2030 with biomass prices of $60 per dry ton or less.  In this baseline scenario, biomass supplies from energy crops increase from zero in 2012 to 0.4 billion tons in 2030. Biomass supplies from other sources increase by 0.2 billion tons year in this scenario, with about half of the projected increase coming from forestry and half from agriculture. Under a high-yield scenario, projected increases in biomass supply from energy crops approach 0.8 billion tons in 2030.

The new report is similar to the original 2005 study in that “it only provides estimates of biomass to roadside or the farmgate. The potential biomass inventory at a given spatial scale is biomass in the form and quality of the production system, which is identified in the report for a specific feedstock. It is important to understand that the estimates in the report do not represent the total cost or the actual available tonnage to the biorefinery. There are additional costs to preprocess, handle, and transport the biomass. There may be storage costs for specific feedstocks. Although the estimates do include losses to roadside, the estimates do not include losses due to continued handling, additional processing, storage, material degradation, and quality separation.”

The 2011 Billion-Ton Update was produced in collaboration with the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge and Idaho National Laboratories, the US Department of Agriculture, the University of Tennessee, and other university and industry representatives. The report can be downloaded at https://bioenergykdf.net/content/billiontonupdate.