Rubin Presents Biofuel Research in Washington, DC at TRB

Jonathan Rubin presented research at the 94th annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board, January 13, 2015, in Washington, D.C.  Rubin presented “Woody Biomass Supply, Economics, Biofuel Policy: Maine and Northeastern Forests” in Session 607: Cellulosic Biofuels for Transportation: Growth Through Linking Feedstocks, Supply Chains and Policies. The presentation was based on research done with Sharon Klein, Binod Neupane, and Stephanie Whalley of the University of Maine.

The amount of woody biomass available for biofuel production depends on tree growth rate, harvesting techniques, harvest cost, government policies and established traditions within the industry. Comparing estimates of biomass availability across studies is difficult due to different methodologies for estimating biomass supply, compounded with inconsistent and often unspecified assumptions. In particular, studies differ in their definition of biomass (i.e., tree size, parts of tree) and consideration of ecological and economic factors (i.e., harvest productivity and costs, competing demand, compliance with existing regulations). In particular, existing restrictions on biomass harvesting for biofuels under the federal renewable fuel standard (RFS2) often are not included. Additionally, most biomass availability studies ignore current biomass uses, resulting in an overestimation of available biomass for future uses. This paper presents new estimates for the amount of economically available biomass in Maine, taking into consideration both economic (integrated harvesting for pulp and pre-commercial thinning) and ecological factors. We find that biomass availability varies greatly depending on the relative location of the biorefinery, the biomass harvesting site, and existing wood consumers (e.g., pulp mill). Indeed, harvesting and transporting woody biomass without an existing use for the high value forest products (saw logs and pulp) probably makes woody biomass for energy production uneconomic. This finding is contrary to some existing studies and suggests that economic consideration need greater emphasis in estimates of biomass availability for biofuels.