New domestic, renewable energy resources must be considered to increase energy security in the U.S. Ethanol production through second-generation (cellulosic) feedstocks will help the U.S. meet the legislative Renewable Fuel Standard, which mandates 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2022. However, conversion of cropland to meet the cellulosic feedstock production goals may have unforeseen environmental consequences. Using Soil Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) outputs and National Agricultural Statistics Service (USDA NASS) economic data, we conducted a spatial optimization of bioenergy feedstock introduction into the Arkansas White-Red River Basin based on water quality and economic objectives, subject to constraints on total land conversion. Results displayed tradeoffs between bioenergy yield for three crops (switchgrass, sorghum and poplar) and land rent objectives. Optimal solutions tended to prioritize conversion of land in eastern AWR subbasins where yield and water quality objective improvements were greatest. A small number of subbasins contributed to basin-wide water quality improvements, whereas subbasins contributing to economic benefits were more spatially dispersed, indicating that water quality responses are more likely to constrain feedstock placement. Biomass production targets can be met vianumerous spatial arrangements, whereas marginal improvement in water quality objectives can best be achieved by selectively siting perennial feedstocks in the eastern half of the region.
This report provides a status of the markets and technology development involved in growing a domestic bioenergy economy. It compiles and integrates information to provide a snapshot of the current state and historical trends influencing the development of bioenergy markets. This information is intended for policy-makers as well as technology developers and investors tracking bioenergy developments. It also highlights some of the key energy and regulatory drivers of bioenergy markets. This report is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO), and, in accordance with its mission, pays special attention to the progress and development of advanced liquid transportation fuels from cellulosic and algal biomass.
The bioenergy economy engages multiple industrial sectors across the biomass-to-bioenergy supply chain—from agricultural- and forestry-based industries that produce biomass materials, to manufacturers and distributors of biomass-based fuels, products, and power, to the ultimate end-user markets. The breadth of this report focuses on activities that occur after the production of biomass.
After opening with a discussion of the overall size and composition of the bioenergy market, this report features two major areas: one detailing the two major bioenergy markets—biofuels and biopower—and another giving an overview of bioproducts that have the potential to enable bioenergy production.
The biofuels section is broken out by fuel type with sections on ethanol, biodiesel, and hydrocarbon fuels (gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel). Ethanol includes both conventional starch ethanol and cellulosic ethanol. This report covers the development of the conventional ethanol industry as a backdrop for emerging cellulosic ethanol production, and discusses challenges with absorbing new production into the market. Hydrocarbon fuels include the developing renewable hydrocarbon biofuels market. Finally, the report offers an overview of the renewable natural gas, biopower, and bioproducts markets.
In total, the information contained in this report is intended to communicate an understanding of portions of the U.S. bioenergy market.
Difficulties in accessing high-quality data on trace gas fluxes and performance of bioenergy/bioproduct feedstocks limit the ability of researchers and others to address environmental impacts of agriculture and the potential to produce feedstocks. To address those needs, the GRACEnet (Greenhouse gas Reduction through Agricultural Carbon Enhancement network) and REAP (Renewable Energy Assessment Project) research programs were initiated by the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS). A major product of these programs is the creation of a database with greenhouse gas fluxes, soil carbon stocks, biomass yield, nutrient, and energy characteristics, and input data for modeling cropped and grazed systems. The data include site descriptors (e.g., weather, soil class, spatial attributes), experimental design (e.g., factors manipulated, measurements performed, plot layouts), management information (e.g., planting and harvesting schedules, fertilizer types and amounts, biomass harvested, grazing intensity), and measurements (e.g., soil C and N stocks, plant biomass amount and chemical composition). To promote standardization of data and ensure that experiments were fully described, sampling protocols and a spreadsheet-based data-entry template were developed. Data were first uploaded to a temporary database for checking and then were uploaded to the central database. A Web-accessible application allows for registered users to query and download data including measurement protocols. Separate portals have been provided for each project (GRACEnet and REAP) at nrrc.ars.usda.gov/slgracenet/#/Home and nrrc.ars.usda.gov/slreap/#/Home. The database architecture and data entry template have proven flexible and robust for describing a wide range of field experiments and thus appear suitable for other natural resource research projects.
Advanced biofuels will be developed using cellulosic feedstock rather than grain or oilseed crops that can also be used for food and feed. To be sustainable, these new agronomic production systems must be economically viable without degrading the soil and other natural resources. This review examines six agronomic factors that collectively define many of the limits and opportunities for harvesting crop residue for biofuel feedstock in the midwestern United States. The limiting factors include soil organic carbon, wind and water erosion, plant nutrient balance, soil water and temperature dynamics, soil compaction, and off-site environmental impacts. These are discussed in relationship to economic drivers associated with harvesting corn (Zea mays L.) stover as a potential cellulosic feedstock. Initial evaluations using the Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation 2.0 (RUSLE2) show that a single factor analysis based on simply meeting tolerable soil loss (T) might indicate that stover could be harvested sustainably, but the same analysis, based on maintaining soil organic carbon (SOC), shows the practice to be non-sustainable. Modifying agricultural management to include either annual or perennial cover crops is shown to meet both soil erosion and soil carbon requirements. The importance of achieving high yields and planning in a holistic manner at the landscape scale are also shown to be crucial for balancing limitations and drivers associated with renewable bioenergy production.
Second generation ethanol bioconversion technologies are under demonstration-scale development for the production of lignocellulosic fuels to meet the US federal Renewable Fuel Standards (RFS2). Bioconversion technology utilizes the fermentable sugars generated from the cellulosic fraction of the feedstock, and most commonly assumes that the lignin fraction may be used as a source of thermal and electrical energy. We examine the life cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emission and techno-economic cost tradeoffs for alternative uses of the lignin fraction of agricultural residues (corn stover, and wheat and barley straw) produced within a 2000 dry metric ton per day ethanol biorefinery in three locations in the United States. We compare three scenarios in which the lignin is (1) used as a land amendment to replace soil organic carbon (SOC); (2) separated, dried and sold as a coal substitute to produce electricity; and (3) used to produce electricity onsite at the biorefinery. Results from this analysis indicate that for life cycle GHG intensity, amending the lignin to land is lowest among the three ethanol production options (−25 to −2 g CO2e MJ−1), substituting coal with lignin is second lowest (4–32 g CO2e MJ−1), and onsite power generation is highest (36–41 g CO2e MJ−1). Moreover, the onsite power generation case may not meet RFS2 cellulosic fuel requirements given the uncertainty in electricity substitution. Options that use lignin for energy do so at the expense of SOC loss. The lignin–land amendment option has the lowest capital cost among the three options due to lower equipment costs for the biorefinery's thermal energy needs and use of biogas generated onsite. The need to purchase electricity and uncertain market value of the lignin–land amendment could raise its cost compared to onsite power generation and electricity co-production. However, assuming a market value ($50–$100/dry Mg) for nutrient and soil carbon replacement in agricultural soils, and potentially economy of scale residue collection prices at higher collection volumes associated with low SOC loss, the lignin–land amendment option is economically and environmentally preferable, with the lowest GHG abatement costs relative to gasoline among the three lignin co-product options we consider.
This study provides a spatially comprehensive assessment of sustainable agricultural residue removal potential across the United States for bioenergy production. Earlier assessments determining the quantity of agricultural residue that could be sustainably removed for bioenergy production at the regional and national scale faced a number of computational limitations. These limitations included the number of environmental factors, the number of land management scenarios, and the spatial fidelity and spatial extent of the assessment. This study utilizes integrated multi-factor environmental process modeling and high fidelity land use datasets to perform the sustainable agricultural residue removal assessment. Soil type represents the base spatial unit for this study and is modeled using a national soil survey database at the 10–100 m scale. Current crop rotation practices are identified by processing land cover data available from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service Cropland Data Layer database. Land management and residue removal scenarios are identified for each unique crop rotation and crop management zone. Estimates of county averages and state totals of sustainably available agricultural residues are provided. The results of the assessment show that in 2011 over 150 million metric tons of agricultural residues could have been sustainably removed across the United States. Projecting crop yields and land management practices to 2030, the assessment determines that over 207 million metric tons of agricultural residues will be able to be sustainably removed for bioenergy production at that time. This biomass resource has the potential for producing over 68 billion liters of cellulosic biofuels.
In-field measurements of direct soil greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions provide critical data for quantifying the net energy efficiency and economic feasibility of crop residue-based bioenergy production systems. A major challenge to such assessments has been the paucity of field studies addressing the effects of crop residue removal and associated best practices for soil management (i.e., conservation tillage) on soil emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O), and methane (CH4). This regional survey summarizes soil GHG emissions from nine maize production systems evaluating different levels of corn stover removal under conventional or conservation tillage management across the US Corn Belt. Cumulative growing season soil emissions of CO2, N2O, and/or CH4 were measured for 2–5 years (2008–2012) at these various sites using a standardized static vented chamber technique as part of the USDA-ARS’s Resilient Economic Agricultural Practices (REAP) regional partnership. Cumulative soil GHG emissions during the growing season varied widely across sites, by management, and by year. Overall, corn stover removal decreased soil total CO2 and N2O emissions by -4 and -7 %, respectively, relative to no removal. No management treatments affected soil CH4 fluxes. When aggregated to total GHG emissions (Mg CO2 eq ha−1) across all sites and years, corn stover removal decreased growing season soil emissions by −5 ± 1 % (mean ± se) and ranged from -36 % to 54 % (n = 50). Lower GHG emissions in stover removal treatments were attributed to decreased C and N inputs into soils, as well as possible microclimatic differences associated with changes in soil cover. High levels of spatial and temporal variabilities in direct GHG emissions highlighted the importance of site-specific management and environmental conditions on the dynamics of GHG emissions from agricultural soils.
Economic, environmental, and energy independence issues are contributing to rising fossil fuel prices, petroleum supply concerns, and a growing interest in biomass feedstocks as renewable energy sources. Potential feedstocks include perennial grasses, timber, and annual grain crops with our focus being on corn (Zea mays L.) stover. A plot-scale study evaluating stover removal was initiated in 2008 on a South Carolina Coastal Plain Coxville/Rains–Goldsboro–Lynchburg soil association site. In addition to grain and stover yields, carbon balance, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and soil quality impact reported elsewhere in this issue, variation in gross energy distribution within various plant fractions — whole plant, below ear shank (bottom), above ear shank (top), cob, as well as leaves and stems of the bottom and top portions (n(part, year) = 20) was measured with an isoperibol calorimeter. Stalks from above the ear shank were the most energy dense, averaging 18.8 MJ/kg db, and when combined with other plant parts from above the ear shank, the entire top half was more energy dense than the bottom half — 18.4 versus 18.2 MJ/kg db. Gross energy content of the whole plant, including the cob, averaged 18.28 ± 0.76 MJ/kg db. Over the 4 years, partial to total removal (i.e., 25 % to 100 %) of above-ground plant biomass could supply between 30 and 168 GJ/ha depending upon annual rainfall. At 168 GJ/ha, the quantity of corn stover biomass (whole plant) available in a 3,254-km2 area (32 km radius) around the study site could potentially support a 500-MW power plant.
To prepare for a 2014 launch of commercial scale cellulosic ethanol production from corn/maize (Zea mays L.) stover, POET-DSM near Emmetsburg, IA has been working with farmers, researchers, and equipment dealers through “Project Liberty” on harvest, transportation, and storage logistics of corn stover for the past several years. Our objective was to evaluate seven stover harvest strategies within a 50-ha (125 acres) site on very deep, moderately well to poorly drained Mollisols, developed in calcareous glacial till. The treatments included the following: conventional grain harvest (no stover harvest), grain plus a second-pass rake and bale stover harvest, and single-pass grain plus cob-only biomass, grain plus vegetative material other than grain [(MOG) consisting of cobs, husks, and upper plant parts], grain plus all vegetative material from the ear shank upward (high cut), and all vegetative material above a 10 cm stubble height (low cut), with a John Deere 9750 STS combine, and grain plus direct baling of MOG with an AgCo harvesting system. Average grain yields were 11.4, 10.1, 9.7, and 9.5 Mg ha−1 for 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011, respectively. Average stover harvest ranged from 0 to 5.6 Mg ha−1 and increased N, P, and K removal by an average of 11, 1.6, and 15 kg Mg−1, respectively. Grain yield in 2009 showed a significant positive response to higher 2008 stover removal rates, but grain yield was not increased in 2010 or 2011 due to prior-year stover harvest. High field losses caused the direct-bale treatment to have significantly lower grain yield in 2011 because the AgCo system could not pick up the severely lodged crop. We conclude that decreases in grain yield across the 4 years were due more to seasonal weather patterns, spatial variability, and not rotating crops than to stover harvest.
Harvesting crop residues for bioenergy or bio-product production may decrease soil organic matter (SOM) content, resulting in the degradation of soil physical properties and ultimately soil productivity. Using the least limiting water range (LLWR) to evaluate improvement or degradation of soil physical properties in response to SOM changes has generally been hampered by the extensive amount of data needed to parameterize limiting factor models for crop production. Our objective was to evaluate five pedotransfer functions to determine their effectiveness in predicting soil water holding capacity in response to different SOM levels. Similarly, two other pedotransfer functions were evaluated to determine the effects of SOM on cone index values. Predictions of field capacity and wilting point water content as well as the cone index–water content–bulk density relationship of soil strength using the pedotransfer functions were compared with field data from two tillage experiments near Akron, CO that had a range of SOM concentrations. Equations previously developed by da Silva and Kay gave the best estimates of LLWR for the pedotransfer functions we evaluated. These equations were then used to illustrate LLWR changes in response to different soil and crop management practices on a Duroc loam near Sidney, NE. The results showed that tillage and, possibly, soil erosion decreased the LLWR as tillage intensity increased. Therefore, we recommend that crop residue removal rates be limited to rates that maintain or increase SOM content to ensure soil physical conditions are not degraded.