Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

A billion tons of biomass a viable goal, but at high price, new research shows

17.02.2011
A new study from the University of Illinois concludes that very high biomass prices would be needed in order to meet the ambitious goal of replacing 30 percent of petroleum consumption in the U.S. with biofuels by 2030.

A team of researchers led by Madhu Khanna, a professor of agricultural and consumer economics at Illinois, shows that between 600 and 900 million metric tons of biomass could be produced in 2030 at a price of $140 per metric ton (in 2007 dollars) while still meeting demand for food with current assumptions about yields, production costs and land availability.

The paper, published in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, is the first to study the technical potential and costs associated with producing a billion tons of biomass from different agricultural feedstocks – including corn stover, wheat straw, switchgrass and miscanthus – at a national level.

According to the study, not only would this require producing about a billion tons of biomass every year in the U.S., it would also mean using a part of the available land currently enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program for energy crop production, which could significantly increase biomass production and keep biomass costs low.

"Most studies only tell you how much biomass is potentially available but they don't tell you how much it's going to cost to produce and where it is likely to be produced," Khanna said.

"Our economic model looks at some of the major feedstocks that could produce biomass at various prices."

Khanna and her team concluded that high-yielding grasses such as miscanthus are needed to achieve the 30 percent replacement goal, "but even then it's going to be a fairly expensive proposition," she said.

When miscanthus is added to the mix, the goal of 1 billion tons of biomass can be achieved, but at a cost of more than $140 per ton.

"Most studies consider costs in the range of $40 to $50 per ton, which is fine when we're talking about biomass production to meet near-term targets for cellulosic biofuel production," Khanna said. "But if we really want to get to the 30 percent replacement of gasoline, at least with the current technology, then that's going to be much more costly."

According to Khanna, miscanthus has been excluded from previous studies because it's a crop that has yet to be grown commercially, and most of the research about it is recent and still considered experimental.

"But across the various scenarios and prices our model considered, miscanthus has the potential to provide 50 to 70 percent of the total biomass yield," she said. "In most parts of the U.S., miscanthus is cheaper to produce than switchgrass, making it a very promising high-yield crop."

The study also contends that the economic viability of cellulosic biofuels depends on significant policy support in the form of the biofuel mandate and incentives for agricultural producers for harvesting, storing and delivering biomass as well as switching land from conventional crops to perennial grasses.

"Unless biomass prices are really high, these perennial grasses are going to have a hard time competing with crops like corn, soybean and wheat for prime agricultural land," Khanna said. "The economics works in favor of using the marginal, less productive lands, where corn and soybean productivity is much lower. But even then there are limits as to how much we would like to use that land for biomass. The more efficiently we can use the land, the better."

With biofuels, there's also the common perception that there's an unavoidable trade-off between fuel and food, Khanna said.

"That concern is much more prevalent when we talk about first-generation biofuels like corn-based ethanol," she said. "But for second-generation fuels, you can use crop residues as well as dedicated energy crops that can be grown on marginal land. This reduces the need to divert cropland away from food crop production. I'm optimistic that we can get considerable amounts of biomass without disrupting food production."

But relying on crop residues alone won't be sufficient to scale production up to levels set by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which limits the production of corn ethanol to 56 billion liters after 2015, and mandates the production of at least 80 of the 136 billion liters of ethanol from non–corn starch–based cellulosic feedstocks by 2022.

"Crop residue yields tend to be relatively low per unit of land – 2 to 3 tons per hectare," Khanna said. "That can get costly pretty quickly. There are also concerns about how much you want to take away because at some point it has a negative effect on soil productivity as well as water quality because it affects run-off. So there are limits to crop residues, which is why we have to take a closer look at energy crops."

Because even marginal land is costly and has some alternative use, both now and in the future, using it as efficiently as possible means focusing more on the highest-yielding energy crops, Khanna said.

"Clearly the way to go is with the high-yielding grasses, which means switchgrass and miscanthus, but what we found is that it's not going to be a single feedstock but really a mix of feedstocks," she said.

Different regions of the country have a comparative advantage in different types of feedstocks.

"Corn stover is more common in the upper Midwest and West, whereas miscanthus is more prevalent in the southern part of the country and switchgrass in the real northern and southern areas," Khanna said.

The research was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, and the U. of I. Energy Biosciences Institute. Other co-authors are Hayri Önal, a professor of agricultural and consumer economics at Illinois, and research associates Xiaoguang Chen and Haixiao Huang, of the Energy Biosciences Institute.

Editor's note: To contact Madhu Khanna, call 217-333-5176;
e-mail khanna1@illinois.edu

Phil Ciciora | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.illinois.edu

More articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science:

nachricht The farm of the future?
01.03.2017 | American Chemical Society

nachricht New gene for atrazine resistance identified in waterhemp
24.02.2017 | University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences

All articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Researchers Imitate Molecular Crowding in Cells

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...

Im Focus: Safe glide at total engine failure with ELA-inside

On January 15, 2009, Chesley B. Sullenberger was celebrated world-wide: after the two engines had failed due to bird strike, he and his flight crew succeeded after a glide flight with an Airbus A320 in ditching on the Hudson River. All 155 people on board were saved.

On January 15, 2009, Chesley B. Sullenberger was celebrated world-wide: after the two engines had failed due to bird strike, he and his flight crew succeeded...

Im Focus: Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

Im Focus: DNA repair: a new letter in the cell alphabet

Results reveal how discoveries may be hidden in scientific “blind spots”

Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...

Im Focus: Dresdner scientists print tomorrow’s world

The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.

The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Booth and panel discussion – The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings at the AAAS 2017 Annual Meeting

13.02.2017 | Event News

Complex Loading versus Hidden Reserves

10.02.2017 | Event News

International Conference on Crystal Growth in Freiburg

09.02.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

A better way to measure the stiffness of cancer cells

01.03.2017 | Health and Medicine

Exploring the mysteries of supercooled water

01.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Research team of the HAW Hamburg reanimated ancestral microbe from the depth of the earth

01.03.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>