General Biomass

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 Project

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

Small Ethanol Plants are a better fit to the dispersed nature of biomass. New technology is needed.

The New 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 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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