Need for more biomass to replace petroleum

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Driven by aggressive biofuel mandates, rapid growth will cause great strain on biomass availability by 2030. Using today’s technologies, an area the size of Russia would need to be cultivated to replace all petroleum used for chemicals and fuels, according to recent Lux Research.

“Today, biofuels and biochemicals need more than a billion metric tons of material annually to replace a mere 3 percent of total petroleum products,” said Kalib Kersh, Lux Research analyst and one of the lead authors of the company report titled, “Finding Feedstocks for the Bio-Based Fuels and Chemicals of Today and 2030.”

“By 2030, this number will soar to 3.7 billion metric tons, and meeting the growing challenge will require feedstock innovations such as crop modification, new value chain configurations and agronomic technology improvements like irrigation and biosensors,” he added.

In brief, feedstock innovation will be needed to keep growing biomass’ market share and to keep pace with world demand for conversion from petroleum. And the word growing is significant because one of the key findings by the research is that farmers will need to be able to grow biomass crops with less inputs—freeing inputs for additional food and biomass production.

The worldwide research firm compiled a database of 1,715 established and planned bio-based chemical and fuel facilities that address supply-side issues, and evaluated new technologies that could make a significant difference. Among its findings:

  • Use of waste as a feedstock is rising. Municipal solid waste (MSW) and waste gases like carbon dioxide and flue gas have potential as a feedstock. LanzaTech aims to make ethanol and 2,3-butanediol from flue gas, while Fulcrum BioEnergy is financing its first MSW gasification facility.
  • Novel logistics methods can lower cost. Alternative fuel companies such as Sweetwater Energy and BlackGold Biofuels are developing “hub-and-spoke” models to build satellite intermediate conversion facilities that feed into a central processing facility, cutting transportation costs. 
  • Crop modifications to reduce input needs. Dozens of companies and universities are developing crop traits that cut down on agriculture’s material inputs. For example, BASF, Mendel Biotechnology and Evogene are developing crop strains that provide resistance to drought and pests, or can fix their own nitrogen.

The report, titled “Finding Feedstocks for the Bio-Based Fuels and Chemicals of Today and 2030,” is part of the Lux Research Bio-based Materials and Chemicals Intelligence and the Alternative Fuels Intelligence services.


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