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With the goal of understanding environmental effects of a growing bioeconomy, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), national laboratories, and U.S. Forest Service research laboratories, together with academic and industry collaborators, undertook a study to estimate environmental effects of potential biomass production scenarios in the United States, with an emphasis on agricultural and forest biomass. Potential effects investigated include changes in soil organic carbon (SOC), greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, water quality and quantity, air emissions, and biodiversity. Effects of altered land-management regimes were analyzed based on select county-level biomass-production scenarios for 2017 and 2040 taken from the 2016 Billion-Ton Report: Advancing Domestic Resources for a Thriving Bioeconomy (BT16), volume 1, which assumes that the land bases for agricultural and forestry would not change over time. The scenarios reflect constraints on biomass supply (e.g., excluded areas; implementation of management practices; and consideration of food, feed, forage, and fiber demands and exports) that intend to address sustainability concerns. Nonetheless, both beneficial and adverse environmental effects might be expected. To characterize these potential effects, this research sought to estimate where and under what modeled scenarios or conditions positive and negative environmental effects could occur nationwide. The report also includes a discussion of land-use change (LUC) (i.e., land management change) assumptions associated with the scenario transitions (but not including analysis of indirect LUC [ILUC]), analyses of climate sensitivity of feedstock productivity under a set of potential scenarios, and a qualitative environmental effects analysis of algae production under carbon dioxide (CO2) co-location scenarios. Because BT16 biomass supplies are simulated independent of a defined end use, most analyses do not include benefits from displacing fossil fuels or other products, with the exception of including a few illustrative cases on potential reductions in GHG emissions and fossil energy consumption associated with using biomass supplies for fuel, power, heat, and chemicals.

Most analyses in volume 2 show potential for a substantial increase in biomass production with minimal or negligible environmental effects under the biomass supply constraints assumed in BT16. Although corn ethanol has been shown to achieve GHG emissions improvements over fossil fuels, cellulosic biomass shows further improvements in certain environmental indicators covered in this report. The harvest of agricultural and forestry residues generally shows the smallest contributions to changes in certain environmental indicators investigated. The scenarios show national-level net SOC gains. When expanding the system boundary in illustrative cases that consider biomass end use, reductions in GHG emissions are estimated for scenarios in which biomass—rather than oil, coal, and natural gas—is used to produce fuel, power, heat, and chemicals. Analyses of water quality reveal that there could be tradeoffs between biomass productivity and some water quality indicators, but better outcomes for both biomass productivity and water quality can be achieved with selected conservation practices. Biodiversity analyses show possible habitat benefits to some species, with other species showing potential adverse effects that may require additional safeguards. Increasing productivity of algae can reduce GHG emissions and water consumption associated with producing algal biomass, though the effects of water consumption are likely of greater concern in some regions than in others. Moreover, the effects of climate change on potential biomass production show gains and losses in yield among feedstocks across the continental United States. Key research gaps and priorities include actions that can enhance benefits and reduce potential for negative effects of increased biomass production. The results from this report will help DOE, the bioenergy industry, and other institutions continue important discussions on environmental effects and will help chart a path toward a more environmentally sustainable bioeconomy.

Contact Phone
Publication Year
Contact Email
efroymsonra@ornl.gov
DOI
10.2172/1338837
Contact Person
Rebecca Efroymson
Contact Organization
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Bioenergy Category
Author(s)
R. A. Efroymson , M. H. Langholtz , E. Johnson , B. J. Stokes
Funded from the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Bioenergy Technologies Office.

The Federal Activities Report on the Bioeconomy has been prepared to emphasize the significant potential for an even stronger U.S. bioeconomy through the production and use of biofuels, bioproducts, and biopower. Bioeconomy activities have already touched on the interests of many federal agencies and offices. This report is intended to educate the public on the wide-ranging, federally funded activities that are helping to bolster the bioeconomy. Further, the report will highlight some of the critical work currently being conducted across the federal government that either supports or relates to the bioeconomy.

The federal government as a whole sees great potential in the nation’s abundant natural resources, the capacity for new and advanced technologies, and the entrepreneurial spirit of the American people. This potential offers the ability to triple the size of today’s bioeconomy by 2030—to over a billion tons of biomass. Through the Biomass Research and Development Board (Board), a new effort is being launched to fully develop this Billion Ton Bioeconomy.

The Board is already working to coordinate research and development federal activities concerning the biobased fuels, products, and power that are key pillars in the bioeconomy. The Board includes members from the Departments of Energy, Agriculture, Interior, Transportation, Defense, and the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Science Foundation, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy. With leadership across the administration, the Billion Ton Bioeconomy vision could grow the entire bioeconomy supply chain—through feedstock development and production, technology development, conversion, production of renewable chemicals and other biobased products, and marketing and distribution to alternative end use.

Expanding the bioeconomy in a sustainable manner will increase energy diversity and long-term security. It will provide additional economic, environmental, and social benefits, such as reduced greenhouse gas emissions, job growth, and responsible management of diverse sources of biomass and waste materials. Efforts will result in a greener, stronger nation with diverse, new economic sectors that enhance U.S. competitiveness.

Inside the report you will find:

  • An overview of the Billion Ton Bioeconomy Vision
  • Preliminary analyses of the expected benefits of a Billion Ton Bioeconomy
  • A compendium of federal activities that currently support the bioeconomy
  • Details on interagency activities that aim to grow the bioeconomy

The Path Forward:

As the United States continues to develop a diverse energy portfolio and transitions to a renewable, clean energy future, the federal government leads the way by working with academia, industry, and non-governmental organizations to provide the science, technology, and policy support to accelerate the deployment of new manufacturing facilities employing innovative processes and using biomass as a feedstock.

Fulfilling this vision will entail aligning the diverse goals, roles, science, technology, data, and tools of many stakeholders across both the public and private sectors for coordinated action that will lead to industrial innovation, increased manufacturing capability, new infrastructure, improvement in agriculture and forest productivity, management and output quality, and green workforce development.

The Board will continue to coordinate and enhance federal efforts—as well as garner collaboration from the government and its stakeholders—in a systematic effort to expand the sustainable production and use of biomass. To further understand the potential of the national bioeconomy, the Board will also be hosting a series of workshops and webinars aimed at gathering input from the public on numerous topics.

Find out more about this exciting new effort by checking out the release on biomassboard.gov.

Publication Year
Attachment
Contact Person
Alison Goss Eng
Contact Organization
U.S. Department of Energy, Bioenergy Technologies Office
Author(s)
The Biomass Research and Development (R&D) Board
Funded from the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Bioenergy Technologies Office.

Conventional feedstock supply systems exist and have been developed for traditional agriculture and forestry systems. These conventional feedstock supply systems can be effective in high biomass-yielding areas (such as for corn stover in Iowa and plantation-grown pine trees in the southern United States), but they have their limits, particularly with respect to addressing feedstock quality and reducing feedstock supply risk to biorefineries. They also are limited in their ability to efficiently deliver energy crops. New logistics technologies and systems are needed to address these challenges and support a growing bioenergy industry.

The proposed solution put forth by the DOE Bioenergy Technologies Office to address these challenges is Advanced Feedstock Supply Systems. The Advanced Feedstock Supply Systems incorporate densification, drying, and other preprocessing technologies to create a biomass commodity. A feature of these advanced systems is biomass preprocessing depots that format biomass in fairly close proximity to the location of production. However, validating assumptions used to develop these advanced systems is critical.

The Advanced Feedstock Supply System Validation Workshop gathered experts from industry, DOE offices, DOE-funded laboratories, and academia to discuss approaches to addressing challenges associated with an expanding bioenergy industry and assumptions used in the Advanced Feedstock Supply System. The workshop was sponsored by the DOE Bioenergy Technologies Office.

Contact Phone
Publication Year
Contact Email
erin.searcy@inl.gov
Contact Person
Erin Searcy
Contact Organization
Idaho National Laboratory
Bioenergy Category
Funded from the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Bioenergy Technologies Office.
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