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Bioenergy in a Changing Climate

Bioenergy is renewable energy derived from biological sources, to be used for heat, electricity, or vehicle fuel. Biofuel derived from plant materials is among the most rapidly growing renewable energy technologies. Conversion of biomass to liquid fuel is a method utilizing plant products from a variety of sources to create additional sources of energy from domestic sources. 

USDA supports bioenergy research to help support the United State energy independence for developing liquid fuels from various plant materials. These materials can be more sustainable because they are developed from renewable sources: ethanol from wheat, sugar cane, molasses and corn, biodiesel from oilseeds and methane from manure; Woody materials from forests; and Grasses which can be co-fired with coal.

Biomass for energy includes forest or agricultural products that are burned either alone or in conjunction with other fuels to produce electricity, heat, or some combination of the two. Although the use of biomass produces carbon emissions at the time of burning, the use of wood or agricultural residues often has fewer net greenhouse gas emissions than traditional fuels due to regrowth and the retention of land in forest or agricultural production.

Biomass may be used with minimal processing or can be developed into additional value-added products. For example, in the Southeast United States, several facilities use woody biomass removed during ecological restoration, wildfire risk treatments, and traditional forest activities to produce high-density fuelwood pellets that are used to produce electricity and heat for homes or industrial power plants.

Responding to Climate Change

Because the bioenergy in largely produced from already existing crops, management does not vary greatly from managing the crops for other issues.  Helping producers understand climate changes and the impact on the various crops is part of the USDA Climate Hub mission. 

The benefits of Bioenergy are numerous.  Bioenergy can reduce dependence on fossil fuel, reduce reliance on foreign oil, lower emissions of greenhouse gases and bring business to rural economies.