Challenges in scaling up biofuels infrastructure

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Ramping up biofuels production to replace fossil fuels and provide a significant portion of the nation’s energy will require nothing short of a transformation of the U.S. agricultural, transportation and energy sectors in the next few decades, according to a bioenergy expert in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences

“It is estimated that bioenergy has the potential to provide up to 60 percent of the world’s primary energy, and biomass seems poised to provide a major alternative to fossil fuels,” he wrote. “The International Energy Agency estimates that a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 will require an exponential increase in bioenergy production, to 20 percent of our total energy supply in less than 40 years.

To reach the International Energy Agency 2050 target for primary energy from biomass would require 15 billion metric tons of biomass annually. To gain some perspective on the quantities involved, consider the volumes of related commodities currently being managed. For agricultural commodities, the sum of rice, wheat, soybeans, maize and other coarse grains and oilseeds will approach 2 billion metric tons in 2010. Current global volumes of energy commodities are somewhat larger, with 6.2 billion metric tons of coal and 5.7 billion metric tons of oil transported in 2008.

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