2016 Billion-ton Bioeconomy Report from US Department of Energy
In 2005, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) released a groundbreaking report assessing the potential for the United States to annually grow, harvest, and collect one billion tons of biomass, including agricultural and forest resources and residues as well as other sources of waste.
The report coincided with the adoption of several federal policies, such as the Renewable Fuel Standard and the Biorefinery Assistance Program, designed to rapidly develop advanced biofuels as a response to increasing reliance on foreign oil.
DOE estimated that a billion tons of biomass could produce enough biofuels to displace 30 percentof then-current petroleum transportation fuel use. Production of renewable chemicals and biobased products were considered potential co-products for biofuel biorefineries.
At that time the thinking went
‘‘If you build the biorefineries, the billion tons of biomass will come.’’
However industry and policy makers quickly recognized that development of robust biomass supply chains and building and financing of biorefineries must proceed in lockstep.
In the 2011 update to the Billion Ton Report, DOE added an evaluation of the economic feasibility of both collecting the billion tons of biomass and delivering it to biorefineries. The report estimated $60 per ton as the threshold price to encourage the harvest of biomass, with delivery to the biorefinery gate increasing the end cost.
The 2016 report
The newest Billion Ton Report, released in June 2016, is an assessment of both progress to date and remaining challenges to building a biobased economy capable of making good economic use of available biomass.
The report authors estimate that the United States currently uses 365 million dry tons of agricultural crops, forestry resources, and waste to generate biofuels, renewable chemicals, and other biobased materials. The authors also project that 325 million additional tons of agricultural residues and waste (which includes biogas production) could potentially be harvested and collected at $60 per ton, if biorefineries were built to make use of it. By 2040, potential additional biomass increases to more than 800 million tons, with 411 million tons coming from new energy crops and agricultural residues.
The authors again acknowledge that delivery of the collected biomass to the biorefinery gate will increase the costs. At $84 per ton, the authors project that 45 percent (or 310 million tons) of the currently and potentially available biomass would be delivered to biorefineries, indicating that even higher prices are necessary to drive the evolution of commodity markets for new sources of biomass, such as energy crops and algae.
The new biomass availability assessment is only the first half of this year’s report.
Still to come is an evaluation of the policies and economic conditions needed to direct investment to the biobased economy and build the biorefineries that will utilize potential biomass resources. Biofuel and renewable chemical producers continue to face the challenges of minimizing risks for investors, remaining cost competitive in a new era of low oil prices, and certifying sustainability throughout the biobased value chain. Stability in the policies and programs that support building biorefineries and developing advanced biofuels is key.
Links to Volume 1 of 2016 year report and to the two earlier reports from 2005 and 2011
- Volume 1: Economic Availability of Feedstocks
- Volume 1 maps and data on the Bioenergy Knowledge Discovery Framework
- Volume 2: Environmental Availability of Select Scenarios—Expected Late 2016