The U.S. transportation sector consumed about 14 million barrels of oil per day in 2007, 9 million of which was used in light-duty vehicles. Total U.S. liquid fuels consumption in 2007 was about 21 million barrels per day, about 12 million of which was imported. The nation could reduce its dependence on imported oil by producing alternative liquid transportation fuels from domestically available resources to replace gasoline and diesel, and thereby increase energy security and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Two abundant domestic resources with such potential are biomass and coal. The United States has at least 20 years’ worth of coal reserves in active mines and probably sufficient resources to meet the nation’s needs for well over 100 years at current rates of consumption. Biomass can be produced continuously over the long term if sustainably managed, but the amount that can be produced at any given time is limited by the natural resources required to support biomass production. However, a robust set of conversion technologies needs to be developed or demonstrated and brought to commercial readiness to enable those resources to be converted to suitable liquid transportation fuels.
Biomass for fuels must be produced sustainably to avoid excessive burdens on the ecosystems that support its growth. Because corn grain is often used for food, feed, and fiber production, and also because corn grain requires large amounts of fertilizer, the committee considers corn grain ethanol to be a transition fuel to cellulosic biofuels or other biomass-based liquid hydrocarbon fuels (for example, biobutanol and algal biodiesel). About 365 million dry tonnes (400 million dry tons) per year of cellulosic biomass—dedicated energy crops, agricultural and forestry residues, and municipal solid wastes—could potentially be produced on a sustainable basis using today’s technology and agricultural practices, and with minimal impact on U.S. food, feed, and fiber production or the environment. By 2020, that amount could reach 500 million dry tonnes (550 million dry tons) annually. A key assumption behind these estimates is that dedicated fuel crops would be grown on idle agricultural land in the Conservation Reserve Program. The size of the facilities for converting biomass to fuel will likely be limited by the supply of biomass available from the surrounding regions.
Producers will likely need incentives to grow biofeedstocks that not only do not compete with other crop production but also avoid land-use practices