Bioenergy is one of the many diverse resources available to help meet our demand for energy. It is classified as a form of renewable energy derived from biomass—organic material—that can be used to produce heat, electricity, transportation fuels, and products.
Benefits of a Robust Bioenergy Industry
Abundant, renewable bioenergy can contribute to a more secure, sustainable, and economically-sound future by providing domestic clean energy sources, reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil, generating U.S. jobs, and revitalizing rural America. More than $350 million is spent every day on foreign oil imports, and the transportation sector accounts for 67% of petroleum consumption in the United States.1 By 2030, 1 billion tons of biomass could produce up to 50 billion gallons of biofuels; produce 50 billion pounds of biobased chemicals and bioproducts; generate 85 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity to power 7 million households; contribute 1.1 million jobs to the economy; and keep $260 billion in the United States.2
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Biomass is an energy resource derived from plant- and algae-based material that includes crop wastes, forest residues, purpose-grown grasses, woody energy crops, algae, industrial wastes, sorted municipal solid waste, urban wood waste, and food waste. Biomass is the only renewable energy source that can offer a viable supplement to petroleum-based liquid transportation fuels—such as gasoline, jet, and diesel fuel—in the near to mid term. It can also be used to produce valuable chemicals for manufacturing, as well as power to supply the grid. A collaborative and multidisciplinary in-depth analysis by the U.S. Department of Energy determined that the United States has the capacity to sustainably produce over 1 billion tons of biomass annually—and still meet demands for food, feed, and fiber.
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Most vehicles on the road today run on gasoline and diesel fuels, which are produced from oil—a nonrenewable resource, meaning supplies are finite. Renewable resources, in contrast, are constantly replenished and are unlikely to run out. Biomass is one type of renewable resource that can be converted into liquid fuels (biofuels) for transportation. Biofuels include cellulosic ethanol, biodiesel, and renewable hydrocarbon (gasoline, diesel, and jet) fuels. The two most common types of biofuels in use today are ethanol and biodiesel. Biofuels can be used in most vehicles that are on the roads, unlike some other renewable alternatives, such as electricity, which would require replacement of our current vehicle fleet. In the future, renewable liquid fuels that are functionally equivalent to petroleum fuels will be available, meaning older cars will not need to be replaced to be renewable.
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Biopower technologies convert renewable biomass fuels into heat and electricity using processes similar to those used with fossil fuels. There are three ways to release the energy stored in biomass to produce biopower: burning, bacterial decay, and conversion to gas/liquid fuel. A key attribute of biomass is its availability upon demand—the energy is stored within the biomass until it is needed, whereas other forms of renewable energy are dependent on variable environmental conditions, such as wind speed or sunlight intensity.
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Biomass is a very versatile energy resource, much like petroleum. While it can be converted to biofuel for vehicle use, it can also serve as a renewable alternative to fossil fuels in the manufacturing of plastics, lubricants, industrial chemicals, and many other products derived from petroleum or natural gas. Mimicking the existing “petroleum refinery” model, these “bioproducts” can be produced alongside biofuels at an integrated “biorefinery.” This co-production strategy offers a more efficient, cost-effective, and integrated approach to the utilization of our nation’s biomass resources. Revenue generated from bioproducts provides added value, improving the economics of biorefinery operations and creating more cost-competitive biofuels.
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 U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 2016 (Washington, DC: U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2016), DOE/EIA-0383(2016), http://www.eia.gov/outlooks/archive/aeo16/.
 J. N. Rogers, B. Stokes, J. Dunn, H. Cai, M. Wu, Z. Haq, H. and Baumes, “An Assessment of the Potential Products and Economic and Environmental Impacts Resulting from a Billion Ton Bioeconomy,” Biofuels, Bioproducts, and Biorefining 11, no. 1 (2017): 110–128, doi:10.1002/bbb.1728.