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Feedstock Supply

The development of efficient, sustainable biomass feedstock supply systems supports a diversified energy portfolio and increased U.S. competitiveness in the global quest for clean energy technologies. This page provides information directly related to feedstock supply:

Feedstock Types

A variety of biomass feedstocks can be used to produce energy (including transportation fuels) and bio-based products. The Bioenergy Technologies Office is focused on the development of cellulosic feedstocks—i.e., non-grain, non-food-based feedstocks—and on economically viable technologies to convert cellulosic material into transportation fuels and other products. Examples of cellulosic feedstock types being considered include the following:

  • Agricultural residues – Non-food based by-products (e.g., corn stover)
  • Energy crops – Woody energy crops (e.g., hybrid poplars, shrub willows) and herbaceous  energy crops (e.g., switchgrass, miscanthus, sorghum, energycane)
  • Forest resources – Existing and re-purposed pulp and paper products, logging residues, and forest thinnings
  • Industrial and other wastes –  Waste processing materials (e.g., municipal solid wastes, urban renewal wood)
  • Algae – A diverse group of primarily aquatic, photosynthetic algae and cyanobacteria ranging from the microscopic (microalgae and cyanobacteria) to large seaweeds (macroalgae).

Early efforts in the Feedstock Supply and Logistics Technology Area focused on the sustainable production, collection, and supply of agricultural and forestry residues, and to a much lesser extent, some dedicated energy crops. However, the expected increase in demand for biomass feedstocks over time will require additional sources of feedstock supply. Therefore a larger diversity of resources will enter the supply system, and appropriate logistics systems will be required for those resources as well.

The first step in developing a sustainable supply of biomass feedstock for the growing bioindustry is to identify the current and potential resources available for energy production, taking into account factors such as sustainability, competing uses for feedstocks, cost, and end-use application. The 2011 report, U.S. Billion-Ton Update: Biomass Supply for a Bioenergy and Bioproducts Industry, details biomass feedstock potential throughout the contiguous United States at a county level of resolution. The report examines the U.S. capacity to sustainably produce one billion dry tons of biomass resources annually for conversion to bioenergy and bioproducts, while continuing to meet existing demands for food, feed, and fiber. The report estimates that the United States could potentially produce approximately 85 billion gallons of biofuels annually—enough to replace approximately 30% of the nation's current petroleum consumption.

View the report and explore the data in the Bioenergy Knowledge Discovery Framework (KDF).

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Feedstock Production

The growing U.S. bioindustry will convert domestically produced biomass resources into a range of fuels and products needed to reduce U.S. oil imports and boost the U.S. economy. A growing bioenergy industry will require large quantities of sustainably produced, high-quality biomass.

Sustainable feedstock production includes all of the operations required to create superior varieties and grow biomass feedstocks through the point where the biomass is harvested from the field or forest. Specific steps include germplasm collection and characterization, plant breeding and genomics, variety selection, development of Best Management Practices, Foundation seed production, and planting and managing the crop. USDA and the Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Science are primarily responsible for leading federal research in these areas. DOE's Bioenergy Technologies Office therefore focuses its sustainable feedstock production research and development in three main areas: resource assessment, resource development, and sustainability. This work is conducted in conjunction with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Sun Grant Regional Feedstock Partnership, and via competitive grants.

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Sustainability is incorporated into all of the Bioenergy Technologies Office's feedstock production efforts. For example, the Bioenergy KDF and BioEnergy Atlas—developed as part of the Technology Area's resource assessment and development efforts—include a number of data layers that address the sustainability of an available resource, including soil quality data (such as soil carbon levels or soil bulk density), annual climate data (such as average temperature and precipitation), and production input data (such as fertilizer rates and water availability). The dedicated energy crop field trials being conducted as part of the Technology Area's resource development work will provide valuable information on the sustainability of specific energy crops by asking project performers to collect information such as water requirements of the crop, the contribution of the crop to net soil carbon gain or loss, invasiveness of the crop, and nitrogen fixation capability.

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