DOE releases first volume of its 2016 Billion-Ton Report

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have jointly released the first volume of the 2016 Billion-Ton Report which reports on the potential for the US to sustainably produce at least 1 billion tons of nonfood biomass resources annually by 2040. The report may be viewed at http://www.energy.gov/eere/bioenergy/2016-billion-ton-report.

DOE also produced Billion-Ton Reports in 2005 and 2011. However, new to the 2016 report are assessments of potential biomass supplies from algae, new energy crops (miscanthus, energy cane, eucalyptus), and municipal solid waste. For the first time, the report also considers how the cost of pre-processing and transporting biomass to a biorefinery may impact feedstock availability. The analysis was led by ORNL with contributions from 65 experts from federal agencies, national laboratories, universities, and private companies.

The report concludes that the US could increase use of dry biomass resources from a current 400 million tons to 1.57 billion tons under a high-yield scenario. The report also indicates that increasing production and use of biofuel, biopower, and bioproducts would substantially decrease greenhouse gas emissions in the utility and transportation sectors and reduce US dependence on imported oil.

The report’s assessment of wood availability was affected by several constraints that limited the supply response to increased demand for wood. These included assumptions that (a) forest area remains constant, eliminating the possibility of expanding forest area to supply more wood and (b) all naturally regenerated forests remain naturally regenerating, eliminating the potential for conversion to more productive planted forests. The report notes that “an unfortunate downside to this approach is that insufficient amounts of [forest] biomass are generated in the out years of the modeling period to meet the high-demand scenarios.”

Volume 2 of the 2016 Billion-Ton Report is set for release later this year, and will consist of a collection of analyses on the potential environmental sustainability effects of a subset of agricultural and forestry biomass production scenarios presented in Volume 1. Volume 2 will also discuss algae sustainability, land use and land management changes, and strategies to enhance environmental sustainability.