Biomass and Biofuels

What are some of the potential benefits of using biofuel as a energy source?

Biofuels offer the following benefits:

  1. Although biofuels still produce carbon dioxide during the combustion process, the reduced amounts would result in a decrease in atmospheric carbon dioxide compared to continued use of the fuels currently used.
  2. Some biofuels would reduce the amounts of unburned hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter, which are the contributors to smog in many cities. In addition, biodiesel would eliminate sulfur oxides and sulfates, contributors to acid rain.
  3. Use of biofuels would reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign (and domestic) petroleum supplies.
  4. Use of some biofuels (i.e. biodiesel) would improve the recycling of waste oils and greases that currently end up in landfills leaking into the soil and polluting groundwater. Actions that can reduce or eliminate groundwater pollutions are very positive.
  5. In the long term, biofuels could potentially reduce energy costs.
  6. Biofuel production could increase employment; Brazil is cited as an example.

Some of the articles referenced do discuss negatives – diversion of cropland from producing food, process inefficiency, water use, downstream pollution (e.g. Gulf of Mexico dead zone). Reference 9 (the most current summary data) shows how biofuel use has been increasing during 2004-2008 in the United States. Reference 10 shows projections on future use of biofuels. Reference 11 provides an interesting analysis with recommendations on dealing with biofuels policies.

Taking everything into account, increased biofuel development could be beneficial to US and global populations.

The following references were used to prepare this summary.


  1. Biofuels, Learning about Renewable Energy, National Renewable Energy Laboratory,
  2. Converting Biomass to Liquid Fuels Video, Learning about Renewable Energy, National Renewable Energy Laboratory,
  3. Biofuels: Beyond the Headlines, Institute on the Environment, University of Minnesota,
  4. SeQuential Biofuels, Salem, Oregon,
  5. Google search,
  6. Global Benefits of Biofuels, The Globalist,
  7. Part 2: Benefits, The Biofuels FAQs, Energy Future Coalition,
  8. Biofuel Benefits Go Beyond Environment, Forbes, Oxford Analytica 04.10.06, 6:00 AM,
  9. Biofuels Overview, US Energy Information Administration, Independent Statistics and Analysis,
  10. EIA’s Long-Term Biofuels Outlook Biofuels: Continuing Shifts in the Industry and the Long-Term Outlook, Peter Gross, April 6, 2010, 2010 Energy Conference, Washington, DC,
  11. The Social Costs and Benefits of Biofuels: The Intersection of Environmental, Energy and Agricultural Policy, Oxford Journals: Applied Economic Perspectives and Policies, Volume 32, Issue 1, pages 4-32,
  12. Biofuels, New York Times, November 20, 2010,

Which biofuel source holds the greatest promise as a energy source? Consider the environment and the cost.

In the short term, use of prairie grasses (switchgrass) holds the greatest potential because:

  1. there are many areas of the country that could be used to grow switchgrasses,
  2. switchgrasses have a deep root system that could help in reducing soil erosion,
  3. switchgrasses grow fast and can grow in more arid environments,
  4. switchgrasses grow naturally and do not depend on heavy use of fertilizers as other crops, e.g. corn,
  5. switchgrasses store carbon dioxide, while growing, in soils and roots,
  6. cost of growing switchgrass is expected to be less than that for corn.

From a cost and environmental effects standpoint, switchgrass appears best suited as the primary feedstock.

Reference 3 provides a map ( showing the relative potential of the various states for producing cellulosic biomass.

Reference 7 provides graphs comparing the ethanol and energy yield of the various biofuel feedstocks. Switchgrass compares well.

The table on page 9 in Reference 12 gives a comparison of different biofuel feedstocks to hemp. While hemp does have many positive aspects, current public and governmental aversion to the crop is not likely to change for some time. Switchgrass, in that table, does appear to have good potential compared to other fuel feedstocks.

Reference 13 offers additional considerations that the diversion of existing cropland could potentially increase carbon dioxide levels. It is obvious more consideration must be given before a wholesale switchover occurs.

In the long term, use of algae to aid in the conversion process has potential, but the processes are still in the early stages of development. The Department of Energy has a roadmap for projected development, but other ideas (e.g. sewage) are also being brought forth. Currently, costs are based on speculation, rather than completed research, e.g. pilot plant results.

The following references were used to prepare this summary.


  1. Google search,
  2. Biofuels: Beyond the Headlines, Institute on the Environment, University of Minnesota,
  3. Biomass Energy, National Resources Defense Council,
  4. Google search,
  5. Biofuels from Switchgrass: Greener Energy Pastures, Oak Ridge National Laboratory,
  6. Switchgrass as a biofuels feedstock in the USA, M.A. Sanderson et al, Canadian Journal of Plant Science, Dec. 2006, Volume 86, Number 5, pages 1315-1325,,
  7. Switchgrass a better biofuel source than corn, Rhett A. Butler,, January 7, 2008,
  8. Switchgrass produces biomass efficiently, e! Science News, Nove,ber 23, 2009,
  9. Displaying search results for switchgrass, American Society of Agronomy, (you must type in switchgrass on the homepage
  10. Yield projections for switchgrass as a biofuel crop, e! Science News, July 11, 2010,
  11. From the Sewage Plant the Promise of Biofuel, Yale Environment 360, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies,
  12. Hemp Biomass For Energy, Tim Castleman, Fuel and Fiber Company, 2006,
  13. Use of U.S. Croplands for Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gases Through Emissions from Land Use Change, Timothy Searchinger et al, Science Express,
  14. National Algal Biofuels Technology Roadmap, US Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Biomass Program,
  15. Algae for Biofuels: Moving from Promise to Reality, but How Fast?, Science Daily,

Since we raised triticale as a feed for our sheep, I was curious about the relationship between it and switchgrass. I ran the search

In the results was a German government publication, Future Bioenergy and Sustainable Land Use,

This book is a preview version and does not include all pages, but, as it is presented, one can get a lot of information from an alternative (i.e. German) viewpoint.

Renewables Home - Virtual Nuclear Tourist - Tuesday March 29, 2011