Limits of Biomass Supply

Land availability, yield potential, and other important  constraints influence the potential supply of biomass.  As discussed in Unit 3: Bioenergy products, feedstocks, co-products and by-products, government studies indicate that meeting federal renewable fuel goals would require 1 billion dry tons of biomass annually, including 215 million tons from dedicated perennial energy crops.  Such figures are based on estimates of the amount of available land for specific biomass sources, expected yields across a range of environmental conditions, and assumptions about yield potentials, use of external inputs like nitrogen fertilizers, and efficiencies of management activities (e.g., planting and harvesting).  However, constraints on biomass supply – effects of management activities, producer willingness to grow and harvest biomass, logistics of conversion facility location, and biomass storage losses – may cause a gap between the amount of biomass estimated as potentially available and that which is actually produced.

Several government funded analyses indicate that in terms of suitability of lands for biomass production, sufficient acres exist for biomass production.  However, the actual amount of land that is likely to be used to produce biomass will undoubtedly be somewhat less than these analyses suggest.

Limiting factors

Land availability for the production of biomass is determined by complex decision making about land use (portrayed graphically in figure 4.1). Producers must consider the following factors in decision-making:

1. Geophysical characteristics of a location (e.g., climate, soil type, and slope),

2. Socio-economic factors:

  • competing land uses and the perceived financial or other benefits of each use (opportunity cost)
  • land owner and land manager experiences and preferences
  • policy incentives,
  • technology inputs, and whether the farmer has access to appropriate equipment and infrastructure for crop production, harvest, storage, and transportation,
  • availability of markets.

Figure 4.1. A number of factors influence land use decision-making, which in turn influences availability of land for production of biomass for bioenergy. (CL Williams, 2011).

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