Summary

The Renewable Fuel Standard 2 was enacted in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 to help reduce dependence on imported petroleum, to strengthen the domestic economy, and to reduce the environmental impact of transportation fuels. It requires blending 36 billion gallons of biofuels into the nation’s transportation fuel supply annually by 2022. To meet this goal, American farmers and forest owners will need to dramatically increase production of biomass for energy – at the same time as they are increasing production of food, feed, and fiber and providing critical environmental services to meet future human needs.

On April 27, 2011, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) held a briefing on developing the sustainable biomass supplies and production systems needed to meet the Renewable Fuel Standard and other renewable energy goals. Petroleum prices have been over $100 per barrel for months now, adding billions to the U.S. petroleum import bill. Americans are once again experiencing the economic pain and vulnerability of continued dependence on petroleum. This briefing examined some of the opportunities and challenges faced by pioneering biomass feedstock producers and current federal efforts to support the development of sustainable biomass feedstocks and feedstock systems – such as the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, the Sun Grant Initiative, the Regional Biomass Feedstock Partnership, and sustainability research and development.

  • Accelerating the deployment of advanced biofuels is a top priority of the Obama administration. It is a key part of its strategy to reduce oil imports and develop rural economies.
  • More than 500 new biorefineries, using biomass feedstocks such as perennial grasses, short-rotation woody plants such as willow and poplar, and residues from agriculture and forestry production, will need to be built by 2022 to meet the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) of 21 billion gallons of advanced biofuels.
  • The Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that 14.6 billion gallons per year (bgy) will be made from new energy crops, 4.6 bgy from crop residues, and 3.0 bgy from woody biomass.
  • Advancing research, development, demonstration and deployment (RDD&D) for a variety of biomass feedstocks is a top priority throughout the USDA and in cooperaton with the Department of Energy (DOE). These can be used for biofuels, bioheat, biopower, and bio-based products. The interagency Biomass Research and Development Board is chaired jointly by USDA and DOE. Together with a technical advisory committee, the Board administers a competitive grant program for biomass feedstock R&D and other related research.
  • The USDA Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) is dedicated to establishing new biomass energy crops and developing systems to collect, harvest, store, and transport biomass to conversion facilities. BCAP provides establishment payments, annual payments, and matching payments for eligible crops and collected biomass. The biomass produced under this program may be used for biofuels, other forms of bioenergy, or other bio-based products.
  • To assure sustainability, under the BCAP program, biomass producers must submit conservation management plans along with their applications to participate in the program.
  • Sustainability is a key challenge. Land is needed to produce increasing amounts of food, feed, fiber, fuel, carbon sequestration, ecosystem services, biological diversity, and wildlife habitats.
  • As much as 29 million acres of existing crop and pasture land will be needed to meet the RFS goal of 21 billion gallons of non-corn-starch-based biofuels by 2022.
  • Regions vary significantly in their capacity to produce biomass. Different types of biomass feedstocks grow better in different regions. Yields can vary greatly by type of plant, location, etc.
  • Managing production and monitoring environmental indicators at the landscape/ecosystem level is key to assuring environmental performance. Continued RDD&D will be critical.
  • The Sun Grant Initiative (SGI) is a federally authorized and funded program of the USDA, DOE, and the Department of Transportation. It supports field trials of regionally appropriate biomass crops at land grant universities across the country, seeking to develop sustainable, cost-competitive biomass feedstock supplies, and developing ways to optimize crop production at the landscape level.
  • Many different feedstocks are being developed including perennial grasses and short-rotation woody biomass. With new crops come new pests and fertilizer needs.
  • The University of Tennessee and Genera Energy have been working with 61 farmers since 2008 to establish and produce switchgrass on 5,100 acres.
  • Producers are ready and willing to supply the emerging biomass-based industry.
  • Commercial success of the industry depends upon continued support of both crop establishment programs such as BCAP and investment from the bioenergy industry. Consistent, long-term state and federal policies are needed to reduce risk so that bioenergy production systems can develop and farmers will commit.
  • Integrated, simultaneous development of both biomass feedstocks and industry must occur.

Related Media Coverage

Biomass briefing focuses on creating a complete supply chain by Jon H. Harsch, Agri-Pulse


Background

The Renewable Fuel Standard 2 was enacted in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 to help reduce dependence on imported petroleum, to strengthen the domestic economy, and to reduce the environmental impact of transportation fuels. It requires blending 36 billion gallons of biofuels into the nation’s transportation fuel supply annually by 2022. To meet this goal, American farmers and forest owners will need to dramatically increase production of biomass for energy – at the same time as they are increasing production of food, feed, and fiber and providing critical environmental services to meet future human needs.