Sources of Biomass Materials

Biomass materials, after pre-processing into suitable forms for various conversion technologies, provide feedstock for a variety of bioenergy end products and end uses. The majority of biomass for bioenergy feedstocks comes from three sources: forests, agriculture, and waste.  Non-forest conservation lands, such as grasslands and savannahs, and algaculture (cultivation of algae) are also potential sources of bioenergy feedstocks.  Regardless of source, however, biomass materials can be divided into two broad categories: woody and non-woody.  Forests provide only woody materials; agriculture and waste sources can provide both woody and non-woody biomass for bioenergy production.

Forests are the primary source of woody biomass.  Woody materials can also be sourced from agriculture.  For example, fast-growing tree species such as hybrid willow (Salix) and poplar have been developed for production in agricultural settings (i.e., grown like row crops on farms).

Agriculture is also the source of four types of non-woody biomass materials: (1) perennial lignocellulosic crops that are dedicated for bioenergy production (e.g., switchgrass, miscanthus), (2) lignocellulosic residues  from plant leaves, stems and stalks (e.g., corn stover);  (3) sugar/starch (i.e., grains); and (4) oil-producing plant materials (e.g., soybeans)(figure 2.2).  Waste sources of bioenergy feedstocks include sawmill wastes (e.g., sawdust), landfill gases, construction wastes, and compostable materials like food scraps. Algaculture (cultivation of algae) is potentially also a major source of bioenergy feedstock and is currently in development at many research institutions and firms in the U.S. and other countries. For more information on algae-based biofuel research, see U.S. Dept. of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Biomass Program. 2010. National Algal Biofuels Technology Roadmap. Available at: http://www1.eere.energy.gov/biomass/pdfs/algal_biofuels_roadmap.pdf.

For more complete discussions of each of the three major sources of biomass, link to the following factsheets:

Fact Sheets:
Forest-based feedstocks, Agriculture-based feedstocks, Waste-based feedstocks

Figure 2.2. Sources and types of biomass materials for conversion into bioenergy. (CL Williams, 2011.)