The growing U.S. bioindustry is poised to convert domestic biomass resources into the full range of fuels and products needed to reduce U.S. oil imports and boost economic growth. Achieving the potential benefits of biofuels for the nation will require large quantities of domestic biomass. Feedstock production addresses all the steps required to sustainably produce lignocellulosic and algal biomass feedstocks to the point they are ready to be collected or harvested.
These steps include plant breeding and genomics, crop selection, crop development, and ultimately crop production. USDA and the Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Science are primarily leading federal research in these areas. DOE's Biomass Program focuses its sustainable feedstock production research and development (R&D) in three main areas:
Biomass Program feedstock resource assessment activities include identification of the geographic location, price, and environmental sustainability of accessing existing and potential future feedstock resource, as well as projecting future supply availability and prices. 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 use in energy production, taking into account factors such as environmental impacts, competing uses for feedstocks, cost, and end-use application. The 2011 DOE report, U.S. Billion-Ton Update: Biomass Supply for a Bioenergy and Bioproducts Industry, details biomass feedstock potential throughout the contiguous United States. The report examines U.S. capacity to produce one billion dry tons of biomass resources annually for bioenergy and bioproducts, while still meeting demands for food, feed, and fiber. The Billion-Ton Update estimates that the United States could potentially produce about 85 billion gallons of biofuels—enough to replace approximately 30% of the nation's current petroleum consumption. The Billion-Ton Update supports the conclusions of the original 2005 Billion-Ton Study and adds in-depth production and cost analyses, addresses sustainability issues like land-use changes and crop management practices, and provides county-level data. View the report and explore the data in the Bioenergy Knowledge Discovery Framework (KDF). Related fact sheets can be found on the Biomass website.
After a sustainable biomass feedstock resource has been identified, the resource must be developed to its full potential in a manner that is sustainable and consistent with the requirements of the end user (i.e., conversion facility). The Biomass Program's resource development efforts include analysis of past and existing resource development efforts and establishment of new replicated field trials. Analysis of past and existing efforts will be used to determine the most successful crops and locations for field trials, as well as gaps that need to be addressed. They will also be used to develop an experimental design to serve as a protocol for the establishment of replicated field trials of dedicated energy crops. The field trials will be used to collect data on a variety of factors, including the impacts of agricultural residue removal from the field. Data and input for these efforts are partially collected through a series of Regional Feedstock Partnership workshops hosted in each Sun Grant Initiative region across the United States. The information gathered through the Feedstock Technology Area's Resource Development efforts are used to provide data for the Bioenergy Knowledge Discovery Framework (KDF) and the BioEnergy Atlas.
In 2008, the Biomass Program, Sun Grant Initiative universities, and USDA selected—and in some cases established—the first round of replicated field trials of corn stover removal and dedicated herbaceous energy crops. The Field Trials Map on this page shows the selected locations and types of crops. Woody energy crop, forest residue removal, and cereal straw removal field trials are planned for future years. For more information on these crop trials, please see the Sun Grant Initiative Regional Feedstock Partnership site.
Sustainability is incorporated into all of the Biomass Program's Feedstock Production efforts. For example, the KDF and Atlas—developed as part of the Technology Area's Resource Assessment—work 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 allowing project performers to collect information such as water requirements of a specific feedstock, invasiveness of a specific feedstock, or a feedstock's ability to fix nitrogen.