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The Billion-Ton Vision: US Biomass Could Displace 30%+ of Current Oil Consumption

A joint study by the US Departments of Agriculture and Energy (USDA and DOE) has concluded that the land resources of the US could produce a sustainable supply of biomass sufficient to displace 30% or more of the country’s present petroleum consumption.


The study found that just forestland and agricultural land alone have a potential for 1.3 billion dry tons of biomass feedstock per year: 368 million dry tons from forestlands, 998 million dry tons from agriculture. This is not an upper limit.

According to the report, transportation fuels from biomass could increase from 0.5% of US transportation fuel consumption in 2001 to 4% in 2010, 10% in 2020, and 20% in 2030.

Producing one billion tons or more of feedstock annually will require technologies that can increase the utilization of currently available and underutilized feedstocks, such as agricultural residues and forest residues. It will require the development of perennial crops as an energy resource on a relatively large scale. It will require changes in agricultural and silvicultural crop management systems. Production yields from these systems will need to be increased and costs lowered. Changes in the way biomass feedstocks are collected or harvested, stored and transported, and pre-processed will also have to be made. Accomplishing these changes will obviously require investments and policy initiatives as well as the coordinated involvement of numerous stakeholder groups to gain broad pubic acceptance.

The report does not address the technologies (such as greatly enhanced mechanisms for the production of cellulosic ethanol) required to be able to process all that biomass into petroleum replacement products such as fuel.



Ron Fischer

If this biomass isn't returned to decompose in the soil from which it grew, does this have an effect on the soil's long term ability to support new growth?

Martin Tobias

Finally, someone talking the truth! We can to this.


Ron, that absolutely needs to be factored in, and the authors of the report reflect their assesment of those factors and suggested approaches. As a sample, from the report:

There is concern about removal of large quantities of biomass from [forest] stands because of long-term site productivity and loss of diversity and habitat associated with down-wood debris. Although the consequences are very site-specific, most negative impacts can be eliminated or minimized by leaving leaves, needles and a portion of the woody biomass on site...

In this section, the report goes on to discuss briefly other approaches in the forest, all of which reduce the total amount of fuel treatment biomass that could be sustainably removed on an annual basis. (One example—a 30-year cycle before any sites are re-entered.)

On the agriculture side, the report touches on planting systems, residue mainteance requirements, changes in crop yield, and a number of other factors.

So the one-billion ton number results after their consideration of the sustainability issues.

Is that the right number, or the appropriate analysis of those issues? Don’t know. But the issue is raised, and part of the discussion from the beginning.


Do you know where they are going with this report? I mean Is the Govt. have a next step or plan yet? Being new to this blog, can someone tell me if or how I can help push my senator to get this moving?... Is there a proposed bill I can reference?

Bryan Althouse

This is a huge step in the right direction in helping the U.S. become a producer of fuel rather than an importer. Biodiesel technology can help save farmers by using their crops to produce fuel as well as greatly reduce the amount of emissions produced by motorists. Every environmentalist should research this issue further and contact government representatives to help make this technology a serious industry. If anybody knows how I can do so, please contact me. Thanks!


Widescale Biodiesel Production from Algae
Michael Briggs, University of New Hampshire, Physics Department

(revised August 2004)

As more evidence comes out daily of the ties between the leaders of petroleum producing countries and terrorists (not to mention the human rights abuses in their own countries), the incentive for finding an alternative to petroleum rises higher and higher. The environmental problems of petroleum have finally been surpassed by the strategic weakness of being dependent on a fuel that can only be purchased from tyrants. The economic strain on our country resulting from the $100-150 billion we spend every year buying oil from other nations, combined with the occasional need to use military might to protect and secure oil reserves our economy depends on just makes matters worse (and using military might for that purpose just adds to the anti-American sentiment that gives rise to terrorism). Clearly, developing alternatives to oil should be one of our nation's highest priorities.


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