Biofuels Could Sustainably Replace Substantial Amount of Gas by 2030

Plant and forestry waste and energy crops could sustainably replace nearly a third of gasoline use by 2030, according to a new study published by Sandia National Laboratories ( and General Motors Corporation.

The “90 Billion Gallon Study” assumes that 75 billion gallons of ethanol would be produced from cellulosic feedstocks while 15 billion gallons would be made from corn.

The study focused on four sources of biofuels: agricultural residue (corn stover and wheat straw); forest residue; energy crops (such as switchgrass); and short-rotation woody crops (including willow and poplar trees). It also focuses on the costs of producing, harvesting, storing and transporting these cellulosic sources to biorefineries.

The researchers determined that 21 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol could by produced per year by 2022 without displacing current crops. Sandia National Labs points out that the Renewable Fuels Standard calls for increasing biofuels production to 36 billion gallons annually by 2022.

The study’s other findings are noteworthy:

• 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.

Sandia is a multi-program laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a Lockheed Martin company, for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. Sandia researches national security, energy and environmental technologies at facilities in Albuquerque, NM, and Livermore, CA.

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