Bioenergy Basics

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Bioenergy is one of many diverse resources available to help meet our demand for energy. It is a form of renewable energy that is derived from recently living organic materials known as biomass, which can be used to produce transportation fuels, heat, electricity, and products.


Abundant, renewable bioenergy can contribute to a more secure, sustainable, and economically sound future by supplying domestic clean energy sources, reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil, generating U.S. jobs, and revitalizing rural economies.

The 2016 Billion-Ton Report: Advancing Domestic Resources for a Thriving Bioeconomy[1] concluded that the United States has the potential to produce 1 billion dry tons of nonfood biomass resources annually by 2040. One billion tons of biomass could

  • Produce up to 50 billion gallons of biofuels
  • Yield 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
  • Keep $260 billion in the United States.[2]

Learn more about Biobenefits.

BIOMASS: A Renewable energy REsource

Biomass is an energy resource derived from plant- and algae-based materials that include crop wastes, forest residues, purpose-grown grasses, woody energy crops, microalgae, industrial wastes, some non-recyclable portions of 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 midterm. It can also be converted to produce valuable chemicals for manufacturing, or used to power the electric grid.

A collaborative and multidisciplinary in-depth analysis by the U.S. Department of Energy determined that the United States can sustainably produce over 1 billion tons of biomass annually and still meet demands for food, feed, and fiber.

Learn more about Biomass Resources.

BIOFUELS: Energy for transportation

Biomass is one type of renewable resource that can be converted into liquid fuels (biofuels) for transportation. Biofuels include cellulosic ethanol, biodiesel, and renewable. 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 road. In the future, renewable transportation fuels that are functionally equivalent to petroleum fuels will be available for use in existing vehicles.

Learn more about Biofuels.

BIOPOWER: Energy for heat and electricity

Biopower technologies convert renewable biomass fuels into heat and electricity using processes like those used with fossil fuels. There are three ways to harvest the energy stored in biomass to produce biopower: burning, bacterial decay, and conversion to a gas/liquid fuel.

A key attribute of biomass and the energy stored in it is its immediate availability when needed.

Learn more about Biopower.

BIOPRODUCTS: everyday commodities made from biomass

Biomass is a versatile energy resource, much like petroleum. Beyond converting biomass to biofuels 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 currently derived from petroleum or natural gas. Mimicking the existing “petroleum refinery” model, integrated "biorefineries" can produce "bioproducts" alongside biofuels. This co-production strategy offers a more efficient, cost-effective, and integrated approach to the use of U.S. biomass resources. Revenue generated from bioproducts also offers added value, improving the economics of biorefinery operations and creating more cost-competitive biofuels.

Learn more about Bioproducts.


[1] U.S. Department of Energy. 2016. 2016 Billion-Ton Report: Advancing Domestic Resources for a Thriving Bioeconomy, Volume 1: Economic Availability of Feedstocks. M. H. Langholtz, B. J. Stokes, and L. M. Eaton (Leads), ORNL/TM-2016/160. Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN. 448p. doi: 10.2172/1271651.
[2] Rogers, J. N., B. Stokes, J. Dunn, H. Cai, M. Wu, Z. Haq, H. Baumes. 2016. “An Assessment of the Potential Products and Economic and Environmental Impacts Resulting from a Billion Ton Bioeconomy.”Biofuels, Bioproducts, and Biorefining, 11: 110–128.