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April 2, 2024

DOE Report Outlines How the United States Can Sustainably Produce More than One Billion Tons of Biomass Per Year

Lynn L. Bergeson Carla N. Hutton

On March 15, 2024, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced the release of the Bioenergy Technologies Office’s (BETO) 2023 Billion-Ton Report (BT23), the fourth in a series of assessments of potential biomass resources available in the United States. BT23 provides estimates of biomass resource potential in response to market demand scenarios. According to DOE, BT23 finds that one billion tons of biomass could satisfy more than 100 percent of the projected demand for airplane fuel in the country, allowing the United States to decarbonize fully the aviation industry with sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). Highlights from BT23 include:

  • The United States currently uses about 342 million tons of biomass, including corn grain for ethanol and wood/wood waste for heat and power, to meet roughly five percent of America’s annual energy demand;
  • The United States can triple the production of biomass, producing an estimated 60 billion gallons of low greenhouse gas liquid fuels, while still meeting the projected demand for food, feed, fiber, conventional forest products, and exports;
  • Currently available but unused biomass resources can add around 350 million tons of additional biomass per year above current uses and double the U.S. bioeconomy;
  • Biomass resources, like energy crops, in a future mature market can provide more than 400 million tons of biomass per year above current uses;
  • Further technological innovations could lead to evolving and emerging resources that represent additional biomass potential; and
  • The analysis ensures sustainable outcomes by accounting for potential risks to soil, air and water quality, water availability, and the imperative to protect America’s forests and biodiversity.

DOE notes that BT23 analyzes the biomass production capacity of approximately 60 resources, “several of which have never before been the subject of a DOE Billion-Ton assessment.” These include winter oilseed crops, trees and brush harvested from forests to prevent wildfires, macroalgae such as seaweed cultivated in ocean farms, and carbon dioxide from industrial plants. BT23 finds that the wide dispersion and variety of these resources will ensure that the benefits of expanded biomass production extend to both rural and urban areas.