Biomass conference keynote highlights biomass use projections

By Lisa Gibson | May 03, 2011

The interconnectedness of biomass and biofuels within the energy sector is an area the U.S. DOE’s Energy Information Administration has been analyzing recently, according to Richard Newell, the agency’s administrator.

Newell delivered an intriguing and informative keynote address at Biomass Power & Thermal and Biorefining Magazine’s International Biomass Conference & Expo, taking place May 2 to 5 at the America’s Center in St. Louis. More than 1,300 people registered for the event, divided into six feedstock-specific tracks with four focus areas.

“We need to pay increased attention to biomass in the interconnectedness of energy,” Newell told the crowd. Two important points he emphasized are that biofuels feedstocks can also be used to generate electricity, and the biofuel production itself can foster a biopower coproduct.

The EIA predicts consumption of biomass for liquid fuels and power will increase significantly through 2035, driven primarily by cellulosic biofuels and electricity. Even with projections of meaningful increases, fossil fuels will still provide 78 percent of U.S. energy in 2035. Predictions for renewable energy consumption in 2009 were around 8 percent and up to 14 percent in 2035, he said.

Government Policy and crude oil prices have worked in favor of biofuels, he added, specifically mentioning the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 and its 36 billion gallon by 2022 mandate as just one of the policy drivers. But the future of biofuels depends on the world oil price path, which is highly uncertain. Still, projections show an increase of domestic biofuel production to displace 1.25 million barrels per day of gasoline, as well as 360,000 barrels per day of diesel by 2035. Subsequently, the import share of liquid consumption drops over the same period.

The increased use of cellulosic biomass for liquid fuels and power will come primarily in the areas of energy crops and crop residues followed by urban wood waste and forest residuals, Newell said. The EIA also predicts, however, that both liquid biofuels and biomass power will compete for the same biomass supply.

In the electricity sector, Newell said natural gas, wind and other renewables will account for the vast majority of capacity additions through 2035. In the near term, a substantial amount will come from wind, but that tax credit is set to expire, shifting new capacity to other sources. By the same projections, biomass electricity production increases fourfold by 2035 in the areas of combined heat and power (CHP), and co-firing with coal. The largest opportunity, though, he reiterated, is the cogeneration of biomass electricity with the production of advanced biofuels.

In closing, Newell told the audience that policy changes and higher oil prices are moving the U.S. toward increased use of biofuels. He cautioned, though, that uncertainties, such as those in policy and market, land use, infrastructure changes, and technology development, still lie ahead.