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Amreica’s Enery Future: Technology and Transformation
that cause significant net greenhouse gas emissions. Appropriate incentives can encourage lignocellulosic biomass production in particular. To ensure a sustainable biomass supply overall, a systematic assessment of the resource base—which addresses environmental, public, and private concerns simultaneously—is needed.
Two conversion processes can be used to produce liquid fuels from biomass: biochemical conversion and thermochemical conversion.
Biochemical conversion of starch from grains to ethanol has already been deployed commercially. Grain-based ethanol was important for stimulating public awareness and initiating the industrial infrastructure, but cellulosic ethanol and other advanced cellulosic biofuels have much greater potential to reduce U.S. oil use and CO2 emissions and have minimal impact on the food supply.
Processes for biochemical conversion of cellulosic biomass into ethanol are in the early stages of commercial development. But over the next decade, improvements in cellulosic ethanol technology are expected to come from evolutionary developments gained from commercial experience and economies of scale. Incremental improvements of biochemical conversion technologies can be expected to reduce nonfeedstock costs by about 25 percent by 2020 and about 40 percent by 2035. In terms of transport and distribution, however, an expanded infrastructure will be required because ethanol cannot be transported in pipelines used for petroleum transport.
Studies have to be conducted to identify the infrastructure that will be needed to accommodate increasing volumes of ethanol and to identify and address the challenges of distributing and integrating these volumes into the fuel system. Also, research on biochemical conversion technologies that convert biomass to fuels more compatible with the current distribution infrastructure could be developed over the next 10–15 years.
If all the necessary conversion and distribution infrastructure were in place, 500 million dry tonnes of biomass could be used to produce up to 30 billion gallons of gasoline-equivalent fuels per year (or 2 million barrels per day [bbl/d]). However, potential fuel supply does not translate to amount of actual supply. When the production of corn grain ethanol was commercialized, U.S. production capacity grew by 25 percent each year over a 6-year period. Assuming that the