The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) held a briefing assessing the ability of the United States to sustainably produce 1 billion tons of renewable non-food biomass every year, based on the findings of volume 1 of the 2016 Billion-Ton Report, released by the Department of Energy's Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) in July. The 2016 Billion-Ton Report is a county-by-county resource assessment to determine whether a billion dry tons of diverse and sustainable biomass feedstocks can be produced annually in the United States (currently, biomass consumption hovers around 200 million dry tons). Such feedstocks include biomass resources such as grain and oil crops, agricultural residues, forestry residues from the forest product industry, purpose-grown energy crops and algae, as well as numerous wastes such as urban wood waste, waste oils and fats, manure, and municipal solid waste.  

Speakers also discussed the Administration’s ‘Billion-Ton Bioeconomy Vision,’ which aims to remove barriers to the sustainable scale-up of U.S. biomass resources while maximizing beneficial economic, social, environmental and public health outcomes, was also discussed. Biomass resources play a key role in creating jobs and sustaining rural economic development in the United States. Domestic biomass resources can be used as fuels, chemicals and bio-products, reducing U.S. dependence on petroleum as well as lowering U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.


Briefing Highlights

Dr. Alison Goss Eng, Program Manager, Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO), Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), Department of Energy (DOE), introduced volume one of the 2016 Billion-Ton Report from BETO. Through the Billion-Ton Reports, BETO periodically assesses the U.S. ability to sustainably produce one billion tons of biomass annually. Currently, biomass accounts for the majority of U.S. renewable energy consumption, accounting for half of all renewable energy consumed in the United States (electricity and fuels). 

  • The 2016 Billion Ton Report concludes that the United States has the potential to produce one billion tons of biomass, while still first meeting food, animal feed, and fiber needs. These findings are consistent with previous reports. The report projects 1 to 1.2 billion tons of sustainable biomass by 2030, and 1.2 to 1.5 billion tons by 2040.
  • Multiple agencies contributed to the report, including the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Forest Service, Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Energy, as well as the biomass/biofuels industry, government agencies, universities, and non-government organizations.
  • The 2016 report considers the technical and economic potential of increasing biomass production. The report is end-use agnostic and policy agnostic. Market potential, which depends on policy, regulations, and investors, is not addressed by any of the billion-ton reports.

New in the 2016 Billion-Ton Report:

  • Expansion of feedstock cost curves out to 2040.
  • Consideration of transportation and storage costs associated with getting the biomass from the farm to the bio-refinery.
  • Includes new feedstocks: energy crops such as algae, miscanthus, energy cane, and eucalyptus.
  • Volume Two, which is expected out later this year, will address the environmental considerations in producing one billion tons of biomass in both a base-case 2040 scenario and a high-yield 2040 scenario.

Key Findings:

  • In 2014, the U.S. produced 365 million dry tons of biomass. Currently, most of this biomass comes from forestry and wood waste, followed by corn grain and municipal waste. Looking forward to 2040, consistent amounts of biomass from forestry, wastes and corn grain are projected, with some increases in agricultural residues used. BETO expects herbaceous energy crops and corn stover to be the major sources of biomass extending towards 2040.
  • By 2040, the vast majority of the increases in total biomass projected are from energy crops, projected at a total of 411 million dry tons. Under a high-yield scenario, the United States could produce up to 736 million dry tons of energy crops per year.
  • Algae has enormous potential but is still in its early phases. More innovation is needed to make algae cost-competitive.
  • Assuming a reference price of $60 per dry ton, BETO projects that by 2040, every state in the lower 48 will be contributing to the U.S. bioeconomy.
  • In order to reach one billion tons, both a supply push and a market pull will be needed. Supply push will come from advancements like improved crops and precision agriculture; market pull will come from higher demand for bioproducts, larger international markets, and more efficient conversion.


Dr. Valerie Sarisky-Reed, Senior Advisor, Bioenergy, Office of the Chief Scientist, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), discussed emerging opportunities for the bioeconomy, which is defined as “The global industrial transition of sustainably utilizing renewable aquatic and terrestrial biomass resources in energy, intermediate, and final products for economic, environmental, social, and national security benefits.” 

  • The bioeconomy is responsible for 4 million jobs and contributes $369 billion to the U.S. economy each year. For each direct job created, 1.64 jobs were also created in other industries.
  • Existing biomass replaced at least 300 million gallons of petroleum, the equivalent of taking 200,000 cars off the road annually.
  • There is a need for continued agency investment to keep biomass competitive with petroleum.
  • The Biomass Research and Development (R&D) Board coordinates programs across agencies to promote biomass; it is the work of seven federal agencies and the White House. 
  • The Board supports a goal of tripling the U.S. bioeconomy by 2030 in a sustainable way.
  • The Board expects to release two new reports later this year, focusing on challenges, opportunities, and an action plan for the bioeconomy at the federal level. Over 400 stakeholders have provided feedback on current gaps and day-to-day challenges of expanding the bioeconomy.


Dr. Harry Baumes, Director of the Office of Energy Policy and New Uses, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), gave an overview of how the Billion-Ton Bioeconomy Analysis (produced by the Biomass R&D Board) and the 2016 Billion-Ton Report work together.  

  • In addition to jobs and economic activity, benefits of a billion-ton bioeconomy include an annual reduction of 400 million tons of CO2 and the potential to replace 25 percent of current petroleum transportation fuels.
  • The Billion-Ton Reports assess how much biomass the United States can sustainably produce. The “bioeconomy vision”, coming from the Billion-Ton Bioeconomy Analysis, suggests what can be done with that biomass.
  • The analysis uses assumptions from the 2016 Billion-Ton Report to assess the economic and environmental possibilities from biobased products. The analysis is illustrative, not predictive.
  • Base-case and high-yield scenarios are analyzed to consider how biobased products like chemicals, transportation fuels, wood pellets, and combined heat & power could be utilized.
  • Consistent with the 2016 Billion-Ton Report, future biomass increases in availability come primarily from increases in energy crops. Outputs include about 50 billion gallons of biofuels, 85 billion kilowatt hours of electricity, and 50 billion tons of biobased products.
  • Expanding the bioeconomy is critical to transitioning to a sustainable low-carbon economy.