Deep decarbonization and U.S. biofuels production: a coordinated analysis with a detailed structural model and an integrated multisectoral model

Journal Article
Environmental Research Letters, vol. 18, iss. 10, pp. 104013, 2023
Laura Vimmerstedt, Swaroop Atnoorkar, Candelaria Bergero, Marshall Wise, Steve Peterson, Emily Newes, Daniel Inman
Abstract Scenarios for deep decarbonization involve biomass for biofuels, biopower, and bioproducts, and they often include negative emissions via carbon capture and storage or utilization. However, critical questions remain about the feasibility of rapid growth to high levels of biomass utilization, given biomass and land availability as well as historical growth rates of the biofuel industry. We address these questions through a unique coordinated analysis and comparison of carbon pricing effects on biomass utilization growth in the United States using a multisectoral integrated assessment model, the Global Change Analysis Model (GCAM), and a biomass-to-biofuels system dynamics model, the Bioenergy Scenario Model (BSM). We harmonized and varied key factors—such as carbon prices, vehicle electrification, and arable land availability—in the two models. We varied the rate of biorefinery construction, the fungibility of feedstock types across conversion processes, and policy incentives in BSM. The rate of growth in biomass deployment under a carbon price in both models is within the range of current literature. However, the reallocation of land to biomass feedstocks would need to overcome bottlenecks to achieve growth consistent with deep decarbonization scenarios. Investments as a result of near-term policy incentives can develop technology and expand capacity—reducing costs, enabling flexibility in feedstock use, and improving stability—but if biomass demand is high, these investments might not overcome land reallocation bottlenecks. Biomass utilization for deep decarbonization relies on extraordinary growth in biomass availability and industrial capacity. In this paper, we quantify and describe the potential challenges of this rapid change.