Smart Bioenergy: Guiding Sustainable Bio-based Energy and Fuels Development

New! Water Use and Biofuels: How we choose to produce biofuels—which crops are used, how and where they are grown—can mean the difference between a wise resource strategy and a wasteful and destructive one.

Expanding U.S. biofuel production will require tradeoffs between ambitious fuel production targets and other societal goals, including protection of the water we need for drinking, growing food, preserving aquatic habitats, and producing electricity.

DOWNLOAD: UCS Bioenergy Principles

Next generation biofuels made from grass, wood waste, or even garbage can reduce biofuels’ impact on water resources and reduce emissions, but only if we make smart choices (PDF).

The Billion Gallon Challenge: Advanced biofuels from diverse sources such as grasses and agricultural waste hold the promise of sustainably reducing U.S. oil dependence and global warming emissions. Unfortunately the advanced biofuels industry not been able to meet the demand as set out in the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

The Billion Gallon Challenge is an effort to build the support and policies needed to bring the fledgling advanced biofuels industry to maturity.  It also seeks to ensure that the biofuels market maximizes taxpayer investment and helps to strengthen U.S. energy and environmental security.

The Billion Gallon Challenge: A Scientists and Economists Call for Advanced Biofuels Options.

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What is Bioenergy?

Bioenergy refers to sources of energy (electricity and solid, liquid, or gaseous fuels) derived from biomass: plant- or animal-based materials such as crops, crop residues, trees, animal fats, by-products, and wastes. These materials are often obtained from agriculture and forests, but can also be derived from industrial and municipal sources.

Biofuel is bioenergy converted into a liquid fuel such as ethanol or biodiesel, but biomass can also be converted into gaseous fuels via biological or chemical processes such as digestion and gasification. Biomass solids can also be burned alone or with fossil fuels to generate direct heat, steam, and/or electrical energy.

Smart Bioenergy Overview

Recent studies have concluded that avoiding dangerous climate change will require the United States and other industrialized countries to reduce their global warming emissions approximately 80 percent below 2000 levels by mid-century.

This goal is attainable, but only if we act immediately, and on multiple fronts. One major part of the climate solutions equation is a shift to renewable energy resources such as wind, solar, and bioenergy.

Use of bioenergy—energy produced from organic matter or biomass—has the potential to increase energy security, promote economic development, and decrease global warming pollution.

But efforts to expand production and use of bioenergy could have unintended economic and environmental consequences.  We must therefore strive to develop bioenergy resources in ways that help meet our present challenges without compromising future generations.

Moreover, even the smartest bioenergy policy can only be successful if pursued as part of a larger solution set, including aggressive increases in energy efficiency, demand reductions through conservation, and reforms in land use policies.

The Union of Concerned Scientists’ research and policy efforts are guided by a set of core bioenergy principles to help guide us down the path to a cleaner, more secure energy future.  They include:

  1. Minimize global warming pollution
  2. Combine bioenergy with efficiency, conservation, and smart growth
  3. Protect public health
  4. Promote ecologically sound bioenergy systems
  5. Ensure bioenergy developments expand economic opportunity

What’s New In Smart Bioenergy?

  • Science Wins Battle to Make Carbon Count in Fuels: The corn ethanol industry attempted to muscle the EPA into removing a key scientific process to accurately track global warming emissions from biofuels.  UCS Director of Science & Policy Peter Frumhoff helped rally over 200 experts on the National Scientists and Economists Statement On Biofuels And Land Use (see below), and the result was a precedent-setting victory for sound science in federal rulemaking.  Read more.
  • National Scientists and Economists Statement On Biofuels And Land Use: Over 200 scientists and economists with expertise relevant to the scientific and economic dimensions of climate change or land use change have joined Drs. Daniel Kammen(Berkeley), Pamela Matson (Stanford), Thomas Lovejoy (Heinz Center), Stuart Pimm(Duke), William Schlesinger (Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies), and UCS Director of Science and Policy Peter Frumhoff on a statement calling for land use change to be included in any lifecycle analyses of heat-trapping emissions from biofuels.

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