Biomass Feedstocks

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Energy 101: Feedstocks for Biofuels and More
An alternate text version of this video is available online.

A feedstock is defined as any renewable, biological material that can be used directly as a fuel, or converted to another form of fuel or energy product. Biomass feedstocks are the plant and algal materials used to derive fuels like ethanol, butanol, biodiesel, and other hydrocarbon fuels. Examples of biomass feedstocks include corn starch, sugarcane juice, crop residues  such as corn stover and sugarcane bagasse, purpose-grown grass crops, and woody plants. The Bioenergy Technologies Office works in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), national laboratories, universities, industry, and other key stakeholders to identify and develop economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable feedstocks for the production of energy, including transportation fuels, electrical power and heat, and other bioproducts. Efforts in this area will ultimately support the development of technologies that can provide a large and sustainable cellulosic biomass feedstock supply of acceptable quality and at a reasonable cost for use by the developing U.S. advanced biofuel industry. 

This page provides a brief synopsis of the Bioenergy Technologies Office's Feedstock Supply and Logistics Technology Area, as well as an Advanced Uniform-Format Feedstock Supply Systemdiagram and several resources that provide useful data for the Technology Area.

Feedstock supply is the essential first link in the biomass-to-bioenergy supply chain.

The success of the U.S. bioenergy industry relies on many factors, including a reliable, adequate supply of high-quality biomass, available at a cost that enables meeting business profitability targets. Therefore, the Feedstock Supply and Logistics Technology Area impacts all facets of the Bioenergy Technologies Office portfolio, and is intimately linked to Processing and Conversion Technology Areas—as feedstock is the substrate for all conversion technologies.

Ensuring a sustainable supply of high-quality biomass feedstock requires research and development to streamline all elements of the biomass feedstock supply chain—from plant breeding and genomics, to crop production and harvesting practices, to biomass preprocessing, transport, and storage systems. Sustainable feedstock production includes all the steps required to produce biomass feedstocks to the point where it is ready to be collected or harvested from the field or forest. Feedstock Logistics encompasses all the unit operations necessary to harvest the biomass and move it from the field or forest to the throat of the conversion process at the biorefinery, while ensuring that the delivered feedstock meets biorefinery physical and chemical quality specifications.

The priority for the Bioenergy Technologies Office is to support the development of strategies, technologies and systems to sustainably harvest and deliver volumes of biomass feedstock of the quality preferred by biorefinery processes in a cost-effective manner in the United States. The Feedstock Supply page provides more detail.

For more information on the Feedstock Technology Area, view the Feedstock Supply and Logistics: Mobilizing Our Nation’s Biomass fact sheet and the 2011 Feedstock Platform Review report

Advanced Uniform-Format Feedstock Supply System

The Bioenergy Technologies Office works with a variety of collaborators to develop the technologies and systems needed to reduce the inherent and introduced variability in biomass (both format and quality) to produce consistent, quality-controlled commodity products that can be efficiently handled, stored, transported, and utilized by biorefineries. Accomplishing this requires a complementary focus on feedstock supply interfaces and logistics.

To achieve an advanced, uniform-format feedstock supply to service the biomass conversion industry, the Bioenergy Technologies Office is supporting the development of a logistics system concept that incorporates distributed biomass preprocessing depots located near biomass production sites, which can reduce variability in biomass format early in the feedstock logistics chain through milling, densification, and other processing technologies. From the depot, the uniform-format biomass is forwarded to one of a network of much larger supply terminals where the biomass is further processed to meet the quality specifications required by the conversion process(es) it supplies. Ultimately, the preprocessed biomass (possibly blended and/or densified) is sent to the biorefinery (see diagram below). The Advanced Uniform-Format Supply System is modeled around the current commodity grain model. The goal of this strategy is to integrate time-sensitive feedstock collection, storage, and delivery operations into efficient, year-round supply systems that sustainably deliver consistently high-quality, infrastructure-compatible feedstocks to the variety of biorefineries served.

An example of the Advanced Uniform-Format Feedstock Supply System.

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The U.S. Billion-Ton Update identified potential sustainable biomass resources available for biofuels production under three productivity scenarios. After a sustainable biomass feedstock resource has been identified, the accessibility of each resource must still be developed in a manner that is both sustainable and consistent with the requirements of the end user (i.e., conversion facility). In 2008, the Bioenergy Technologies Office, Sun Grant Initiative universities, and USDA-Agricultural Research Service selected and established replicated field trials for corn stover and wheat straw removal and for dedicated herbaceous and woody energy crops across wide geography. Analysis of crop yield and soil carbon data across several successive crop years will be used to identify the crops with the greatest potential for future development in specific areas of the country, as well as knowledge gaps that remain to be addressed. The field trials will be used to collect data on a variety of factors, including the impacts of agricultural residue removal from the field. The information gathered through the Feedstock Supply and Logistics Technology Area's feedstock development efforts feeds data to the Bioenergy Knowledge Discovery Framework (KDF) and BioEnergy Atlas, which are publicly available resources.

For more information on these crop trials, please see the Sun Grant Initiative Regional Feedstock Partnership site.

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