|A fuel pump displays prices for gasoline blended with up to 10% ethanol.|
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, biomass accounted for about half of all renewable energy consumed in 2013 and 5% of total U.S. energy consumed. The three primary sources of this biomass are wood and forest products byproducts, waste including municipal solid waste and landfill gas, and raw organic feedstocks like corn and soybean oil used to produce biofuels.
Of biomass energy resources, biofuels experienced the greatest growth over the last decade. From 2002 to 2013, biofuels created from biomass grew more than 500%, driven largely by increases in U.S. production of ethanol and biodiesel for blending as transportation fuels. These biofuels are typically produced from feedstocks such as agricultural crops and other plant material, animal byproducts, and recycled waste. For U.S. ethanol production, corn is the dominant feedstock, while biodiesel producers rely on soybean oil for just over half of feedstock needs and an array of biomass resources for the rest. Market demand for these biofuels comes in part from federal mandates such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Renewable Fuel Standard, which requires the blending of certain volumes of biofuels into gasoline and diesel.
Meanwhile, EIA data shows that consumption of wood and waste energy increased just 4% over the decade. About two-thirds of U.S. wood energy is consumed for industrial processes, while nearly all U.S. waste energy is consumed for electric generation or industrial processes.
If this trend continues, woody biomass and waste energy will continue to hold their positions in our portfolio of energy resources, while continued growth in the conversion of biomass into biofuels for transportation and other needs will increase biofuels' weighting in the nation's energy mix. At the same time, debates continue over the cost and value of programs encouraging the growth of corn as a biofuel feedstock. What does the future hold for biomass in the U.S.?