SNL study: Biofuels can provide viable, sustainable solution to reducing petroleum dependence

February 10, 2009
In a joint study with General Motors Corp., Sandia researchers examined the full range of biofuels supply chain components, including production of biomass feedstocks, storage and tranportation of those feedstocks, construction of conversion plants, and conversion of feedstocks to ethanol at these plants (Photo by Randy Wong)

( -- An in-depth study by Sandia National Laboratories and General Motors Corp. has found that plant and forestry waste and dedicated energy crops could sustainably replace nearly a third of gasoline use by the year 2030.

The goal of the "90-Billion Gallon Biofuel Deployment Study" was to assess whether and how a large volume of cellulosic biofuel could be sustainably produced, assuming technical and scientific progress continues at expected rates. The study was conducted over a period of nine months.

Researchers assessed the feasibility, implications, limitations, and enablers of annually producing 90 billion gallons of ethanol — sufficient to replace more than 60 billion of the estimated 180 billion gallons of gasoline expected to be used annually by 2030. Ninety billion gallons a year exceeds the U.S. Department of Energy's goal for ethanol production established in 2006.

The "90 Billion Gallon Study" assumes 75 billion gallons would be ethanol made from nonfood cellulosic feedstocks and 15 billion gallons from corn-based ethanol. The study examined four sources of biofuels: agricultural residue, such as corn stover and wheat straw; forest residue; dedicated energy crops, including switchgrass; and short rotation woody crops, such as willow and poplar trees. It examines the costs of producing, harvesting, storing and transporting these sources to newly built biorefineries.

Key findings

Using a newly developed tool known as the Biofuels Deployment Model, or BDM, Sandia researchers determined that 21 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol could be produced per year by 2022 without displacing current crops. The Renewable Fuels Standard, part of the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act, calls for ramping up biofuels production to 36 billion gallons a year by 2022.

The 90 Billion Gallon Study, which focused only on starch-based and cellulosic ethanol, found that an increase to 90 billion gallons of ethanol could be sustainably achieved by 2030 within real-world economic and environmental parameters.

Other findings:

• Continued support of R&D and initial commercialization is critical because sustained technological progress and commercial validation is a prerequisite to affordably producing the large volumes of ethanol considered in this study.

• Policy incentives such as a federal cap and trade program, carbon taxes, excise tax credits and loan guarantees for cellulosic biofuels are important to mitigate the risk of oil market volatility.

• The domestic investment for biofuels production is projected to be virtually the same as the investment required to sustain long-term domestic petroleum production.

• Cellulosic biofuels could compete without incentives with oil priced at $90 per barrel, assuming a reduction in total costs as advanced biofuels technologies mature.

• Large-scale cellulosic biofuel production could be achieved at or below current water consumption levels of petroleum fuels from on-shore oil production and refining.

The industrial processes by which nonfood forms of biomass are converted into sugars suitable for production of biofuels were a focus of the study.

Sandia's analysis also included land use, water availability, energy used to produce cellulosic biomass, transportation of feedstocks and other potential leverage points for the development and use of cellulosic biofuels. In conducting its research, Sandia utilized models that examined current and future technologies for development of ethanol.

Future enhancements to Sandia's BDM are planned, contingent on additional partnerships. Such improvements to the current software tool, says Sandia business development associate Carrie Burchard, would provide an even more comprehensive systems understanding of the biofuels industry.

An executive summary of the 90-Billion Gallon Biofuel Deployment Study can be found at .

Source: Sandia National Laboratories

Explore further: Stringent CAFE standards extension leads to billions in savings

Related Stories

In California, a $350 million social experiment over lawns

October 31, 2016

California water agencies that spent more than $350 million in the last two years of drought to pay property owners to rip out water-slurping lawns are now trying to answer whether the nation's biggest lawn removal experiment ...

Recommended for you

Firms push hydrogen as top green energy source

January 18, 2017

Over a dozen leading European and Asian firms have teamed up to promote the use of hydrogen as a clean fuel and cut the production of harmful gasses that lead to global warming.

WhatsApp vulnerable to snooping: report

January 13, 2017

The Facebook-owned mobile messaging service WhatsApp is vulnerable to interception, the Guardian newspaper reported on Friday, sparking concern over an app advertised as putting an emphasis on privacy.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

3 / 5 (2) Feb 10, 2009
Once The US is weaned of Middle East oil, it can cease it incestuous relationship with its local henchman Israel who are being given free reign to swat down the liberty of Palestinians in the so-called game of national security, in the same manner they had been treated by the Nazis...sans the gas chamber. Then, the world can proceed to a saner chapter.
3 / 5 (2) Feb 10, 2009
Strange that they didn't include oilgae (oil-producing algae) in their study. Oilgae promises 10 to 30 times the production capacity of any of the four crops in their study. Now, granted, oilgae is 5 to 10 years from large-scale commercial mass production... but their study horizon was 2030, and they were "assuming technical and scientific progress continues at expected rates." So it's a strange omission.

See the wiki oilgae article at http://en.wikiped...i/Oilgae
2 / 5 (1) Feb 11, 2009
Strange that they didn't include oilgae (oil-producing algae) in their study.

DOE has been quitely chipping away at it for decades and it remains perpetually too expensive at 5-10 $/kg of dry weight($30-60 per gallon at 50% oil by weight).

Optimizing oil production requires precise control over temperature, CO2 levels, constant mixing to expose all algae to sunlight equally, nutrients and combatting contamination with unwanted species of algae, virii and bacteria.

It has a much higher potential as a supplementary food source(omega 3 fatty acids and protein).
not rated yet Feb 13, 2009
90 billion gallons is a huge number and a goal we should strive for but , we need to move forward in other directions as well! It%u2019s nice to see that Mr. Chu and the Energy Dept.
are moving quickly to fund alternative energy projects.
However most of what you see is the obvious and well known programs. We need to concentrate more on break thru technologies! Otherwise we will never really change the world! I recently discovered a company called Energetics Technologies. They have a process called SuperWaveFusion, which could be a possible breakthrough in Cold Fusion. Using an interaction between palladium and deuterium they have reported an excess heat reaction. I am trying to learn more about this process and would like to hear from others about what they think.
Their website is, let me know your thoughts.
Also please suggest other break thru forms of alternative energy that we should be pursing
1 / 5 (1) Mar 01, 2009
Even more strange Hemp which is up to 75% cellulose is excluded. Henry Ford had hemp biomass plastic cars running on hemp fuel saying we can be energy independent.
1 / 5 (2) Mar 02, 2009
not rated yet Mar 05, 2009
Yep, its a con. Get over it. They are claiming they will get free energy from water. Classic con.

Then again you still think the Sun is hot because of electric currents. So how do you explain the the only places on the Sun where there are definitely currents, sunspots, is where the Sun is colder?

Oh the heck with. Yep give them your money. It will make you billions. If your right.

My bet is they will soon be saying something like:

'Well we haven't quite been able to get more energy out than we put in, its close though. In the meantime it could make a great energy storage system with a little more research. Offers by investors are being solicited on the Penny Stock and our new offices in Costa Rica.'


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.