Bracmort Specialist in Agricultural Conservation and Natural Resources
use of biomass as an energy feedstock is emerging as a potentially viable
alternative to address U.S. energy security concerns, foreign oil
dependence, rural economic development, and diminishing sources of
conventional energy. Biomass (organic matter that can be converted into energy)
may include food crops, crops for energy (e.g., switchgrass or prairie
perennials), crop residues, wood waste and byproducts, and animal manure.
Most legislation involving biomass has focused on encouraging the
production of liquid fuels from corn. Efforts to promote the use of biomass
for power generation have focused on wood, wood residues, and milling waste. Comparatively
less emphasis has been placed on the use of non-corn-based biomass feedstocks— other
food crops, non-food crops, crop residues, animal manure, and more—as renewable
energy sources for liquid fuel use or for power generation. This is partly
due to the variety, lack of availability, and dispersed location of
non-corn-based biomass feedstock. The technology development status and
costs to convert non-corn-based biomass into energy are also viewed by some
as an obstacle to rapid technology deployment.
For over 30 years, the term biomass has been a part of legislation
enacted by Congress for various programs, indicating some interest by the
general public and policymakers in expanding its use. To aid understanding
of why U.S. consumers, utility groups, refinery managers, and others have not
fully adopted biomass as an energy resource, this report investigates the
characterization of biomass in legislation. The definition of biomass has
evolved over time, most notably since 2004. The report lists biomass
definitions enacted by Congress in legislation and the tax code since 2004
and definitions contained in legislation from the 111th Congress (the American
Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, H.R. 2454; the American Clean
Energy Leadership Act of 2009, S. 1462; the Clean Energy Jobs and American
Power Act, S. 1733; and the discussion draft of the American Power Act).
Comments on the similarities and differences among the definitions are provided.
One point of contention regarding the definition is the inclusion of biomass
from federal lands. Some argue that removal of biomass from these lands
may lead to ecological harm. Others contend that biomass from federal
lands can aid the production of renewable energy to meet certain mandates
(e.g., the Renewable Fuel Standard) and that removal of biomass can enhance
forest protection from wildfires. Factors that may prevent a private landowner
from rapidly entering the biomass feedstock market are also included in
Bills were introduced in the 112th Congress that would modify the biomass
definition (e.g., S. 781, H.R. 1861). However, debates about the
definition have not been as extensive in the 112th Congress as they were
in previous Congresses. Forthcoming discussions about energy, particularly
legislation involving the Renewable Fuel Standard or energy tax incentives, may prompt
further discussion about the definition of biomass.
Date of Report: November 14, 2012
Number of Pages: 21 Order Number: R40529 Price: $29.95
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