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      Next-generation biomass feedstocks for biofuel production

      , 1 , 2 , 1 , 1 , 3

      Genome Biology

      BioMed Central

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          Abstract

          A review of the potential for biofuel production in the United States from timber and non-grain crops.

          Abstract

          The development of second-generation biofuels - those that do not rely on grain crops as inputs - will require a diverse set of feedstocks that can be grown sustainably and processed cost-effectively. Here we review the outlook and challenges for meeting hoped-for production targets for such biofuels in the United States.

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          Most cited references 44

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          Environmental, economic, and energetic costs and benefits of biodiesel and ethanol biofuels.

          Negative environmental consequences of fossil fuels and concerns about petroleum supplies have spurred the search for renewable transportation biofuels. To be a viable alternative, a biofuel should provide a net energy gain, have environmental benefits, be economically competitive, and be producible in large quantities without reducing food supplies. We use these criteria to evaluate, through life-cycle accounting, ethanol from corn grain and biodiesel from soybeans. Ethanol yields 25% more energy than the energy invested in its production, whereas biodiesel yields 93% more. Compared with ethanol, biodiesel releases just 1.0%, 8.3%, and 13% of the agricultural nitrogen, phosphorus, and pesticide pollutants, respectively, per net energy gain. Relative to the fossil fuels they displace, greenhouse gas emissions are reduced 12% by the production and combustion of ethanol and 41% by biodiesel. Biodiesel also releases less air pollutants per net energy gain than ethanol. These advantages of biodiesel over ethanol come from lower agricultural inputs and more efficient conversion of feedstocks to fuel. Neither biofuel can replace much petroleum without impacting food supplies. Even dedicating all U.S. corn and soybean production to biofuels would meet only 12% of gasoline demand and 6% of diesel demand. Until recent increases in petroleum prices, high production costs made biofuels unprofitable without subsidies. Biodiesel provides sufficient environmental advantages to merit subsidy. Transportation biofuels such as synfuel hydrocarbons or cellulosic ethanol, if produced from low-input biomass grown on agriculturally marginal land or from waste biomass, could provide much greater supplies and environmental benefits than food-based biofuels.
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            Carbon-negative biofuels from low-input high-diversity grassland biomass.

            Biofuels derived from low-input high-diversity (LIHD) mixtures of native grassland perennials can provide more usable energy, greater greenhouse gas reductions, and less agrichemical pollution per hectare than can corn grain ethanol or soybean biodiesel. High-diversity grasslands had increasingly higher bioenergy yields that were 238% greater than monoculture yields after a decade. LIHD biofuels are carbon negative because net ecosystem carbon dioxide sequestration (4.4 megagram hectare(-1) year(-1) of carbon dioxide in soil and roots) exceeds fossil carbon dioxide release during biofuel production (0.32 megagram hectare(-1) year(-1)). Moreover, LIHD biofuels can be produced on agriculturally degraded lands and thus need to neither displace food production nor cause loss of biodiversity via habitat destruction.
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              Advanced technology paths to global climate stability: energy for a greenhouse planet.

              Stabilizing the carbon dioxide-induced component of climate change is an energy problem. Establishment of a course toward such stabilization will require the development within the coming decades of primary energy sources that do not emit carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, in addition to efforts to reduce end-use energy demand. Mid-century primary power requirements that are free of carbon dioxide emissions could be several times what we now derive from fossil fuels (approximately 10(13) watts), even with improvements in energy efficiency. Here we survey possible future energy sources, evaluated for their capability to supply massive amounts of carbon emission-free energy and for their potential for large-scale commercialization. Possible candidates for primary energy sources include terrestrial solar and wind energy, solar power satellites, biomass, nuclear fission, nuclear fusion, fission-fusion hybrids, and fossil fuels from which carbon has been sequestered. Non-primary power technologies that could contribute to climate stabilization include efficiency improvements, hydrogen production, storage and transport, superconducting global electric grids, and geoengineering. All of these approaches currently have severe deficiencies that limit their ability to stabilize global climate. We conclude that a broad range of intensive research and development is urgently needed to produce technological options that can allow both climate stabilization and economic development.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Genome Biol
                Genome Biology
                BioMed Central
                1465-6906
                1465-6914
                2008
                29 December 2008
                : 9
                : 12
                : 242
                Affiliations
                [1 ]Joint BioEnergy Institute, Emervyille, CA 94608, USA
                [2 ]Energy Systems Department, Sandia National Laboratories, Livermore, CA 94551, USA
                [3 ]Department of Chemical Engineering, University of California-Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA
                Article
                gb-2008-9-12-242
                10.1186/gb-2008-9-12-242
                2646290
                19133109
                Copyright © 2008 BioMed Central Ltd
                Categories
                Review

                Genetics

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