UNIT 1.4: Current and Emerging Challenges to Bioenergy Development

In previous units, we explored trends in bioenergy development; bioenergy products, co-products and by-products; and economic, social and ecological impacts of bioenergy. Throughout each of the previous units, the cornerstone has been the potential for bioenergy development to be sustainable. This unit explores some of the current constraints and challenges to bioenergy development. We’ve groups these challenges into the following categories:

  1. Limits of biomass supply: land availability, competing land uses, yield gaps, on farm storage;
  2. Risk of invasiveness of feedstock crops;
  3. Farmer knowledge and risk: strategies for agricultural risk management, farmer knowledge regarding agronomic and financial management of bioenergy cropping;
  4. Conversion of cellulosic biomass;
  5. Cost of transportation and challenges of storage of feedstocks; and
  6. Physical and intangible infrastructure necessary for growth of bioenergy industries.

 

Bioenergy may play a role in  meeting current and anticipated future energy demands, and for addressing concerns about energy security, energy independence, and environmental and climate impacts associated with non-renewable energy. Yet, there are many challenges to the full-scale utilization of bioenergy as a major component of the overall U.S. energy portfolio, particularly with regards to sustainability.  These challenges are technological, financial and economic, and social. Challenges are presented in this unit following a simplified supply and development chain (e.g., biomass supply, conversion to ethanol, infrastructure development). This ordering of challenges does not imply that any area presents a more immediate or intractable challenge than other areas.

Guiding Questions

  • What are the primary constraints on feedstock supply?
  • What is the level of farmer knowledge regarding biomass production and markets?  What are the risks of biomass production to farmers/foresters and how can they manage that risk?
  • Will potentially invasive plant species be used as biomass resources?
  • What types of biotechnology are being applied in biomass development?  Do biomass producers possess adequate knowledge of factors that my influence their decision-making?
  • What are the key bottlenecks in conversion technology?
  • What types of infrastructure types are necessary for meeting bioenergy goals?
  • How do feedstock transportation, handling and storage affect bioenergy development?
  • Which will come first: supply or demand?