DOE says biomass energy is plentiful and green

The nation can vastly increase the amount of energy it gets from biomass-derived sources without jeopardizing – and possibly even helping – the environment.

The  optimistic assessment by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) was packaged with the release of a “2011 U.S. Billion-Ton Update: Biomass Supply for a Bioenergy and Bioproducts Industry,” a follow-up to a 2005 biomass assessment.

The DOE said it sought to determine if U.S. agriculture and forest resources can produce at least 1 billion dry tons of biomass annually – enough to displace approximately 30 percent of the country’s present petroleum consumption – without impacting other vital U.S. farm and forest products, such as food, feed and fiber crops.

The report, downloadable as a PDF here, is intended to provide the industry, policymakers and the agricultural community with information necessary to help expand renewable energy resources and develop alternative fuels for the U.S. transportation sector.

The 2011 update breaks the data down to the county level, expands on supply curves for individual feedstocks and provides a more rigorous model of resource sustainability, the DOE said. The update focuses on the 2012-2030 time period, and toward the implementation of renewable fuels standards and other initiatives.

Resources identified in the report range from primary and secondary forest biomass, soybean and rice hulls and animal fat to obscure “energy crops” such as eucalyptus. Each feedstock is evaluated for its ability to produce clean, renewable biofuels, biopower or bioproducts. 

The report emphasize conventional monoculture, but it also discusses the benefits of using more sustainable growing techniques, such as conservation practices like no-till farming and crop rotation.

According to the report, the feedstock resources identified could produce about 85 billion gallons of biofuels – enough to reach the DOE’s goal of replacing approximately 30 percent of the nation’s current petroleum consumption. And it could be done in an environmentally sensitive way, the department said. 

In fact, the DOE said, “in some cases increased production may contribute to environmental improvements. For example, removing tree portions that are unfit for market in the forest industry can reduce forest fire risk, and planting energy crops on marginal lands can reduce soil erosion.”

Lauren Craig, EarthTechling