Biomass Supply Availability

In 2005, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Energy (DOE) released a joint report on the feasibility of biomass feedstock supply to fulfill the renewable fuel goals of the Biomass R&D Technical Advisory Committee, a panel established by the Congress to guide future direction of federally funded biomass R&D.  The report, Biomass as Feedstock for a Bioenergy and Bioproducts Industry: the Technical Feasibility of a Billion-Ton Annual Supply [1], found that there were sufficient land resources in the U.S. for fulfilling the goal of replacing 30% of current U.S. petroleum consumption with biofuels by 2030.  Moreover, the “Billion-Ton Study” concluded that the 1 billion dry tons of biomass feedstock needed annually could be sustainably produced with “modest changes” in land use and management practices within U.S. agricultural lands and forestlands. In 2011, the Billion Ton Study was updated to account for changes in underlying assumptions (including economic restrictions) and changes in analytical methods.  The U.S. Billion Ton Update generally supports the findings of the 2005 report but modifies the magnitudes of specific resources.  Forest and crop residues were determined to be less than the 2005 estimates, but energy crop potential was determined to be significantly greater than the 2005 estimate.  The Billion Ton Update concludes that biomass resources could be sustainably increased from a current 473 billion dry tons to nearly 1.1 billion dry tons by 2030 – enough to replace approximately 30% of current petroleum consumption. Individual states have or are conducting similar studies to determine the potential inventory of their resources (e.g., Willyard and Tikalsky, 2006).”

In 2008, Sandia National Laboratory and General Motors’ R&D Center conducted a joint biofuels systems analysis to assess the feasibility, impacts, limitations and enabling factors of large-scale production of biofuels in the U.S.  The findings of the analysis are reported in the “90-Billion Gallon Biofuel Deployment Study” (executive summary available here:  According to the report, 90 billion gallons per year of biomass-derived ethanol can be produced and distributed with 15 billion gallons per year from corn grain ethanol and the balance from cellulosic ethanol.  The production of 45 billion gallons per year of cellulosic ethanol requires 480 million tons of biomass, of which 215 million tons was projected to come from dedicated perennial energy crops, requiring 48 million acres of planted cropland from what is now “idle, pasture of non-grazed forest”.

Where will these biomass supplies come from? The greatest supply of forest residues is the Northwest, the extreme Northeast, and across the southern tier of states east of the Mississippi River (figure 2.3).  Crop residues are primarily available within the Corn Belt, and among counties along the Mississippi River in the central Mississippi Valley (figure 2.4).

Dedicated perennial feedstocks will likely be distributed in regions across the country based on climate, soils, and agronomic factors (figure 2.5).

According to the Oak Ridge National Lab (ORNL), hybrid poplars are suitable throughout the U.S., except in southeastern states where poplar and other hardwood species are suitable for growth.  Areas most suitable for growth of switchgrass and reed canary grass are the Plains states and Texas, Corn Belt states, and the Upper Midwest.  The most suitable area for growth of Miscanthus and other tropical grasses is among southeastern states.  According to analysis by NREL, counties with greatest potential biomass supply are capable of producing greater than 500,000 tons annually (figure 2.6).  These counties have high amounts of forest residues, wood and paper industry wastes, and urban/construction wastes.  Counties with high amounts of agricultural residues are also among those with highest biomass supply, potentially producing 250-500,000 tons of biomass annually.

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