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1 1 Introduction and Overview “Competing with the scale of the petroleum industry is a real challenge for the biomass economy” Paul Bryan “There is money to be made right now in biomass.” Jeffrey Steiner 1 Over the past two years, the federal government has • The benefits and weaknesses of current technologies. released several reports highlighting the importance of • The technical and commercial barriers to scaling up biomass as a potential source of economic growth and sustainable technologies. energy independence. In January 2011, for example, the • The optimal ways of combining chemical technologies C ongressional Research Service issued a report titled of different scales to maximize impact. Agriculture-Based Biofuels: Overview and Emerging Issues that reviewed the evolution of the U.S. biofuels sector and The workshop began with an introduction by co-chair the role that federal policy has played in shaping its devel- Paul Bryan, an independent consultant, who reminded opment. In August, 2011, the Department of Energy (DOE) the audience that the goal of the workshop was to identify released 2011 U.S. Billion-Ton Update: Biomass Supply opportunities and obstacles in large-scale biomass pro- for a ioenergy and Bioproducts Industry, which detailed B duction, in general, and ways in which the chemical sci- U.S. biomass feedstock potential nationwide. The report ences can further those opportunities and overcome those “examined the nation’s capacity to produce a billion dry obstacles. He then reviewed some of the challenges of scale tons of biomass resources annually for energy uses without in biomass production, starting with feedstock production, impacting other vital U.S. farm and forest products, such as the crop side of this subject. Improving production means food, feed, and fiber crops.”2 Then in April 2012, the White increasing biomass yields per acre; decreasing the fertil- House Office of Science and Technology Policy issued the izer, pesticide, and water inputs; altering plants in a way National Bioeconomy Blueprint, a large portion of which that makes their conversion to sugars easier; and expanding described the importance of biomass as a source of energy the range where these crops can be grown. Moving to the and chemicals for manufacturing. chemical or biochemical side of production means improv- To explore the role of the chemical sciences in develop- ing conversion of harvested biomass into raw materials with ing large-scale uses for biomass in the production of fuels, increased yield and selectivity; lowering capital costs; and chemicals, heat, and power, the National Academies’ Chemi- expanding the range of outputs beyond ethanol, biodiesel, cal Sciences Roundtable (CSR) held a workshop on May 31, and a few other select products. 2012. Key topics addressed during the workshop included But even as progress is being made in each of these areas, Bryan said, the supply chain for biomass and its products is • The current state of technology in large-scale produc- only going to be as strong as its weakest link, and today, those tion of sustainable fuels, chemicals, heat, and power. weak links include a limited supply of conventional feed- stocks; challenges in feedstock harvesting and collection; feedstock transportation and seasonal storage; operating at an 1The role of the Chemical Sciences Roundtable was limited to planning efficient scale; and transporting and distributing intermedi- the workshop, and this workshop summary has been prepared by the work- ate and finished fuels and other products. He asked that the shop rapporteurs as a factual summary of what occurred at the workshop. 2 U.S. Department of Energy. U.S. Billion-Ton Update: Biomass workshop participants focus their thinking and conversations Supply for a Bioenergy and Bioproducts Industry. 2011 [online]. [https:// on identifying and overcoming these supply chain barriers bioenergykdf.net/content/billiontonupdate]. Accessed Oct. 9, 2012. that represent limits to scaling biomass utilization to a scale 1
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2 OPPORTUNITIES AND OBSTACLES IN LARGE-SCALE BIOMASS UTILIZATION that will address important societal issues regarding sustain- Feedstocks and Conversion Technologies ability and climate change. Bryce Stokes, senior advisor with CNJV, a contractor to As one example, he discussed the carbohydrate supply DOE, summarized the main findings of DOE’s Billion-Ton chain. Today, if all of the global production of cereal grains Study update, for which he was a co-director, noting that the were converted to ethanol, leaving nothing for food, the United States has the resources to produce a sufficient supply total output would be approximately 14 million barrels of of renewable biomass to meet its 2030 goal of producing one oil equivalent per day. In contrast, current crude oil produc- billion tons of biomass for energy uses without impacting tion is approximately 85 million barrels of oil equivalent per other vital U.S. farm and forest products. The 2011 report day. Clearly, conventional carbohydrates cannot make a sig- included county-level projections showing that necessary nificant impact on the world’s demand for petroleum-based land use changes will occur slowly and that a significant fuels, chemicals, and materials. What can meet that demand amount of biomass will come from increased production of is lignocellulose, both from waste and purposefully grown energy crops and increased use of corn stover and straws. The energy crops. Recent estimates from the DOE’s Billion-Ton report noted that the woody portion of municipal solid waste study put the total U.S. biomass potential of lignocellulose in can become a substantial contributor to biomass resources. the range of 1.0 to 1.6 billion tons, which would be enough Given the diffuse nature of biomass, collecting and distribut- to meet the demands of the U.S. Renewable Fuels Standards ing biomass on the billion-ton scale will be challenging. The (RFS2) as set out in the Energy Independence and Security report also outlines a vision for creating a uniform commod- Act of 2007 (EISA), and generate enough additional biomass ity feedstock from biomass. for electricity generation and the production of chemicals Brian Duff, chief engineer and acting deployment team and other materials. leader for the Office of Biomass Program at DOE, discussed Another obstacle is what Bryan calls the tyranny of dis- the security, environmental, and economic reasons why the tance. Although it is expensive to drill a well to collect crude United States should develop biomass-based fuels, chemi- oil or natural gas, a single well produces massive amounts cals, and power industries. He noted that tapping into the of product that can be fed into a pipeline for distribution. enormous value of petrochemicals and specialty chemicals B iomass, in contrast, is sparsely distributed, and even the is a place where chemistry can play a huge role in realizing highest yielding energy crop will require many times the area value from biomass conversion, particularly since these are of an oil or natural gas field to produce the equivalent amount high value added products that would use very little of the of energy. This will be a challenging problem to solve, one available biomass. He then introduced the two major sets that DOE is addressing through its Uniform Feedstock of technologies—biological and thermochemical—for con- F ormat. The idea is that small depots would convert biomass verting biomass into biofuels and chemicals and remarked into a uniform, pellet-like material that could be handled as that the list of building blocks, secondary chemicals, inter- a quasi-liquid and easily transported to central storage or mediates, and end products that can be made from biomass processing facilities. Seasonality is another significant issue, feedstocks is virtually limitless, just as it is with petroleum. Bryan added, one that will require developing a mix of bio- mass sources that will together produce a steady supply of feedstock to a processing plant. Value Chains There is also the issue of process scale. Today, the world’s Chris Somerville, professor of alternative energy and largest ethanol plant is rated at 175 million gallons per year, director of the Energy Biosciences Institute at the University the energy equivalent of approximately 12,000 barrels of oil of California in Berkeley, gave a broad perspective on the per day. The largest petroleum refining facility in operation challenges that need to be addressed to develop economi- today can process about 1 million barrels of oil per day, and cally viable schemes for converting lignocellulosic biomass the smallest economically efficient refinery handles 200,000 into fuels or intermediates that can be converted into other barrels per day. chemicals. The biggest challenge is to move from the current batch processing system to one that more closely resembles OVERVIEW OF THE WORKSHOP the continuous flow process used in producing fuels from oil. He discussed the potential advantages of continuous After Bryan’s introductory remarks, the workshop con- flow processing and explained that the development of such sisted of two presentations on feedstocks and conversion tech- a system will require new separation and purification tech- nologies, followed by three presentations and corresponding nologies. Attracting researchers with the necessary skills in breakout sessions on value chains for the production of fuels, chemistry and chemical engineering to this field represents chemicals, heat, and power from biomass. These presenta- a substantial challenge. tions and discussions are summarized briefly below and in Robert Brown, founding director of the Bioeconomy Chapters 2-6 of this workshop report. The workshop con- Institute at the Iowa State University, discussed the pros and cluded with a panel discussion and an open comment period. cons of the two routes for thermochemical conversion of
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INTRODUCTION AND OVERVIEW 3 lignocellulosic biomass into intermediates that would then not necessarily represent the views of all workshop partici- undergo further processing to produce fuel or chemicals. pants, workshop session breakout groups, the planning com- Gasification, which is well developed for use with coal, mittee, or the National Research Council. In accordance with produces syngas that can then be converted using chemical the policies of the CSR, the summary does not attempt to catalysts into a variety of fuels and chemicals. Pyrolysis pro- establish any conclusions or recommendations about needs duces charcoal, which can be used as a supplemental fuel for and future directions, focusing instead on issues identified the pyrolysis reactor, or an acidic, oxygenated bio-oil that has by the speakers and workshop participants. the potential to be processed much like petroleum. The chief This summary is organized according to the presentations technical obstacle facing both of these processes is purifying and breakout discussions that were based on three different the immediate reaction process of inorganic chemicals that aspects of the value chains for converting biomass into fuels, will contaminate subsequent processing steps. While gasifi- chemicals, heat, and power. Overview presentations on the cation technology is fairly well understood, the same is not value chains set the stage for breakout sessions that explored true for pyrolysis, and Brown stressed the need for chemists the following questions: and chemical engineers to study this process, as well as to work on the contamination issue. 1. What is the current state of technology in large-scale Jeffrey Steiner, national program leader for biomass production of sustainable fuels and chemicals? production systems at the U.S. Department of griculture A a. ow can we best combine chemical technologies H (USDA) Agricultural Research Service and agency lead of different scales to maximize impact? of the USDA Regional Biomass Centers, reviewed the b. ow can we identify ways in which technologies H use of biomass to generate heat and power. He noted of different practical scales can complement each that the development of a biomass-based power industry in other? the United States suffers from the lack of a national policy 2. What are the technologies and commercial barriers to guiding biomass utilization. He also described some of the scaling up sustainable technologies? small-scale systems that are being developed, tested, and 3. What skills will chemists and chemical engineers need deployed for turning biomass into methane that can then be to enable a growing biomass economy that are not used locally to cogenerate electricity and heat. widely held and/or taught today? 4. Where can we exploit existing transportation infra- structure to meet the new needs, and where must we General Observations build new infrastructure? The final chapter summarizes the panel discussion and compiles some general observations made by the individual ONLINE COMPONENT workshop participants that apply broadly to the opportuni- ties and obstacles in large-scale biomass utilization and the In trying to make the workshop material readily avail- role of the chemical sciences and engineering in addressing able to the public, the Board on Chemical Sciences and these issues. Technology developed a hub for information relating to the Opportunities and Obstacles in Large-Scale Biomass Utilization: The Role of the Chemical Sciences and Engi- ORGANIZATION OF THIS WORKSHOP SUMMARY neering workshop. At the time of this publication, additional This report was prepared by rapporteurs Sheena Siddiqui, material relating to the workshop could be found at http:// Douglas Freidman, and Joe Alper for the Chemical Sciences dels.nas.edu/global/bcst/biomass. It includes speaker PDF Roundtable as a factual summary, in chronological order, of presentations and presentation recordings, and breakout ses- what occurred at the workshop. The views contained in the sion summary slides. report are those of individual workshop participants and do
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