Sustainability - Biomass Feedstocks
Sweet sorghum is a tall leafy grass growing 1.2 to 4
meters high, a C4 crop characterized by high photosynthetic efficiency and
drought resistance, which uses less water and fertilizer than corn. The stem
contains substantial amounts of sugar juice which can be fermented directly to
ethanol. Ethanol yields are over 500 gal per acre. Ethanol can be made from the
sugar juice, from starch in the grain, and cellulosic ethanol can
be made from the bagasse. Unlike sugar cane, sweet sorghum is well adapted to
temperate climates and grows in the U.S., China, and India. See the Sweet
Sorghum Brochure from ICRISAT (2007).
Switchgrass is a tall grass which
grows throughout the U.S. In addition to its potential as a biofuel and source
of cellulosic ethanol, it is planted for erosion control. See Biofuels from
Switchgrass for an overview. For original research on the technology and
economics of switchgrass by the experts, see Developing
Switchgrass as a Bioenergy Crop (1999).
Corn stover is an abundant
agricultural residue which could be harvested to yield up to 100 million tons of
dry corn stover, enough to make 8 billion gallons of ethanol. There are
considerable logistical and economic challenges in harvesting and transporting
this quantity of corn stover. See Innovative Methods for Corn
Stover Collecting, Handling, Storing and Transporting, Atchison and
Hettenhaus, 2004, NREL .
Willow is a short rotation woody crop which grows rapidly
and can be harvested every three to four years. It can be burned directly,
co-fired with coal, gasified for use in gas turbines, or converted into liquid
fuels. See the SUNY-ESF page on The Willow Biomass
Billion Ton Supply: What would it
take to provide a billion tons of biomass per year in the U.S.? See this
detailed 2005 report by ORNL and USDA scientists: Biomass as
Feedstock for a Bioenergy and Bioproducts Industry: The Technical Feasibility of
a Billion-Ton Annual Supply
Biomass and Biofuels
Plants are a better fit to the dispersed nature
of biomass. New technology is needed.
Petroleum, Sen. Richard G. Lugar and R. James
Woolsey (1999) Foreign Affairs. Ethanol made from cellulosic biomass could
reduce U.S. dependence on imported oil, then 40% of our trade deficit.
Widespread production of cellulosic ethanol could shift income from a few oil
exporters to many farmers in rural areas all over the world. U.S. and world
benefits from cellulosic ethanol. The importance of biotechnology for producing
alternative fuels like ethanol.
Global Warming and the Need
for Liquid Fuels from Biomass, Daniel Gibbs (1998)
BioEnergy '98. Motor vehicles will double in the next 15-20 years, accelerating
global warming. Switchgrass could be converted to ethanol to produce 50 billion
gallons of ethanol, the energy equivalent of 34 billion gallons of gasoline, 25%
of 1994 U.S. liquid fuel consumption.
E85 is a blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline. Clean Air Choice and
the American Lung Association of Minnesota (ALAMN) report that more than 140
stations are now offering E85 fuel, and 120,000 E85-capable vehicles
(flexible-fuel vehicles or FFVs) are registered in Minnesota. E85 is now cheaper
than unleaded regular per gallon at many MN stations. E85 fueling sites and FFVs
are part of the early infrastructure which can begin to slow global warming and
produce cleaner air. E85 blends are low in sulfur and reduce HC and NOx
emissions, as well as CO2. This site is a good source of info on FFVs and
emissions data with ethanol blends. Plus info on biodiesel and B2
biodiesel blends in Minnesota.
The Growth Energy Market development in its website called ethanolretailer.com has info on E85 and FFVs from
8 major auto manufacturers. Find out if your vehicle is E85-compatible and find
E85 fueling stations in over 45 states.
Bioenergy at DOE
Check out the Bioenergy Feedstock Information Network
(BFIN) from Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). The Alternative Fuels Data Center
provides comprehensive information on all types of alternative fuels.
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