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US could produce enough biomass to support bioeconomy in 25 years, study says

Within 25 years, the US could produce enough biomass to support a bioeconomy, including renewable aquatic and terrestrial biomass resources that could be used for energy and to develop products for economic, environmental, social, and national security benefits, a new study finds.

The 2016 Billion-Ton Report, jointly released by the US Department of Energy (DOE) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), concludes that the US has the potential to sustainably produce at least 1 billion dry tons (appr. 907 million metric tonnes) of non-food biomass resources annually by 2040.

These renewable resources include agricultural, forestry, and algal biomass, as well as waste.

They encompass the current and future potential of biomass, from currently available logging and crop residues to future available algae and dedicated energy crops – all useable for the production of biofuel, biopower, and bioproducts.

The report findings show that under a base-case scenario, the US could increase its use of dry biomass resources from a current 400 million tons to 1.57 billion tons under a high-yield scenario.

Increasing production and use of biofuel, biopower, and bioproducts would substantially decrease greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the utility and transportation sectors and reduce US dependence on imported oil as the domestic bioeconomy grows.

The analysis was led by ORNL with contributions from 65 experts from federal agencies such as the US Forest Service, Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Transportation, and Federal Aviation Administration.

A multitude of national laboratories (including Idaho National Laboratory, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory), and universities (including the University of Tennessee, North Carolina State University, South Dakota State University, and Oregon State University), as well as private companies (including Energetics and Allegheny Science and Technology) contributed to the study.

New to the 2016 report is novel assessments of potential biomass supplies from algae, from new energy crops (miscanthus, energy cane, eucalyptus), and from municipal solid waste.

For the first time, the report also considers how the cost of pre-processing and transporting biomass to the biorefinery may impact feedstock availability.