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Energy Conversion

D. Yogi Goswami, Frank Kreith

Biomass Properties and Resources

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Mark M. Wright, Robert C. Brown
Published online on: 22 Jun 2017

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Biomass Properties and Resources

Mark M. Wright and Robert C. Brown

3.1 Introduction........................................................................................................................... 61
3.2 Solar Energy Conversion to Biomass................................................................................. 61
3.3 Biomass Properties...............................................................................................................63
3.3.1 Plant Composition....................................................................................................63
3.3.2 Biomass Analysis......................................................................................................64
3.4 Biomass Resources................................................................................................................ 66
3.4.1 Waste Materials......................................................................................................... 66
3.4.2 Energy Crops............................................................................................................. 67
3.4.3 Algae........................................................................................................................... 69
3.5 Land Use for Biomass Production...................................................................................... 69
References........................................................................................................................................ 71

3.1 Introduction
The term “biomass” encompasses a wide range of materials of recent origin classified as
either waste or dedicated energy crops. Waste biomass includes any organic material that
has negligible apparent value, represents a nuisance, or is a pollutant to the local envi-
ronment. Dedicated energy crops are biomass grown specifically for the production of
­biobased products and fuels. This term excludes crops grown for food or feed even though
they can also be used to produce energy. It also includes organic material with maturation
times of hundreds to millions of years such as fossil fuels and some forest trees with long
maturity terms. Biomass is primarily a form of solar energy stored as chemical energy
within organic compounds. The solar-to-biomass conversion process involves interactions
among numerous factors, leading to different types of biomass.
In the following sections, we describe the principles of solar energy conversion, biomass
types and their properties, and the role of land use for crop production. These concepts
help to understand the quantity and quality of global biomass resources.

3.2  Solar Energy Conversion to Biomass

Solar energy is the most abundant source of renewable energy on planet earth. Every year,
the planet receives 5.6 million exajoules (EJ—1018 J) upon its atmosphere. Given that the
world consumes about 570 EJ per year, this is enough energy to supply for ­several ­thousand

62 Energy Conversion

Photosynthesis Steps and Efficiencies
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Photosynthesis Step Total Energy (%)

Incident solar energy (on leaf surface) 100
Energy in photosynthetically active spectrum 48.7
Absorbed energy 43.8
Photochemically converted energy 37.2
Carbon fixation pathway C3 C4
Energy in synthesized carbohydrates 12.6 8.5
Energy available after photorespiration 6.5 8.5
Energy available after respiration 4.6 6.0
Source: Zhu, X.G. et al., Curr. Opin. Biotechnol., 19(2), 153, 2008.

years. Unfortunately, solar energy is very diffuse and difficult to convert ­efficiently. Most of
the atmosphere’s solar energy never reaches land surfaces, and only a minuscule amount
is converted to biomass.
The planet’s atmosphere absorbs, reradiates, and reflects 30% of the incident solar
­radiation and allows 70% to reach the planet’s surface. Earth’s surface area consists of 29.2%
land, of which about 21% is covered by biomass. Overall, only 6.1% of the a­ tmosphere’s solar
radiation remains available for biomass production. Plants have d ­ eveloped p
­ hotosynthetic
means of storing solar energy that are suitable for their needs but inefficient in their ability
to convert solar to chemical energy.
Table 3.1 compares the percent of total energy captured by C3 and C4 plants after ­several
photosynthesis steps. Starting from 100% of the solar energy available at the plant’s s­ urface,
only 48.7% is in the photosynthetically active spectrum. The absorbed energy represents
43.8%, and 37.2% of the incident solar energy on the leaf’s surface is p ­ hotochemically
­converted to biomass energy via carbon fixation. C3 and C4 are carbon fixation pathways
labeled after the carbon chain length of the first carbohydrate formed during ­photosynthesis.
The vast majority of plants employ three carbon-chain length m ­ olecules to fixate carbon,
whereas about 3% of known species employ four carbon-chain carbohydrates. Corn, sug-
arcane, and sorghum are common C4 plants. The process of ­photosynthetically converting
solar energy into chemical compounds can be generalized by the formula 3.1. This formula
describes the conversion of CO2, H2O, and sunlight into sugar (glucose) and oxygen.

6CO 2 + 6H 2O + (sunlight ) ® C6H12O 6 + 6O 2 (3.1)

C3 and C4 plants can theoretically store up to 4.6% and 6.0% of the solar energy on their
leaf surfaces into biomass. This is the amount leftover after the energy spent during
­carbohydrate synthesis, photorespiration, and respiration. C3 plants are more efficient at
carbohydrate synthesis and respiration, but C4 plants have an overall higher efficiency,
because they avoid photorespiration penalties. In practice, the most efficient conversion
measured in C3 and C4 plants is 2.4% and 3.7%, respectively. There are many environ-
mental factors that lower the efficiency of crops in the field including nutrient availability,
weather patterns, and pest activity.
The efficiency of solar energy conversion to biomass can be estimated based on the
incident energy and biomass available in a given area. Data for solar incident energy
measurements are publicly available from sources such as the National Renewable
Energy Laboratory [9]. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) publishes biomass
Biomass Properties and Resources 63

productivity data ( USDA data are based on aboveg-

round biomass. However, the biomass efficiency calculations should include the amount
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of belowground biomass that can exceed a ­quarter of the total biomass material. The ratio
of below- to aboveground biomass is ­commonly known as the root-to-shoot ratio, and
values for different crops are available in the ­literature [3].

3.3  Biomass Properties

3.3.1  Plant Composition
Plant composition and physical properties have a significant impact on biomass energy
content. Biomass is commonly characterized by its organic composition, elemental analysis,
proximate analysis, and bulk properties such as heating value and bulk density. Table 3.2
shows physical and thermochemical data of representative grain, herbaceous, and woody
biomass. Organic composition includes cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin mass content.
Elemental analysis typically reports carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and ash. Other
elements are often reported if they are found in high quantities or important for the target
application (such as sulfur for combustion). Proximate analysis is a measure of the mois-
ture content, volatile matter, fixed carbon, and ash content. Heating value is the amount of
energy released during complete biomass combustion.
Biomass is mostly composed of lignocellulosic material. Lignocellulose is a term that
describes the three-dimensional polymeric composites formed by plants as structural
material [1]. Plants contain varying quantities of lignin, cellulose, and hemicellulose.
Lignin is a polymer whose primary function is to provide structural support and protect
the plant from microbial activity. Therefore, lignin is a common by-product of biochemical
processes, since microbes are unable to easily utilize it as a substrate. On the other hand,

Physical and Thermochemical Properties of Selected Biomass
Feedstock Corn Stover Herbaceous Crop Woody Crop
Organic composition (wt.%) Cellulose 53 45 50
Hemicellulose 15 30 23
Lignin 16 15 22
Others 16 10 5
Elemental analysis (dry wt.%) C 44 47 48
H 5.6 5.8 5.9
O 43 42 44
N 0.6 0.7 0.5
Ash 6.8 4.5 1.6
Proximate analysis (dry wt.%) Volatile matter 75 81 82
Fixed C 19 15 16
Ash 6 4 1.3
HHV (MJ/kg) 17.7 18.7 19.4
Bulk density (kg/m3) 160–300 160–300 280–480
Yield (Mg/ha) 8400 14,000 14,000
Source: Brown, R.C., Biorenewable  Resources: Engineering New Products from Agriculture, Iowa State Press,
A Blackwell Publishing Company, Ames, IA, 2003, pp. 59–75.
64 Energy Conversion

thermochemical processes can decompose lignin although the products are still hard to
predict. Instead of breaking apart into its monomers, lignin decomposition tends to form
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oligomers from the repolymerization of smaller hydrocarbons. These oligomers can be

gasified or catalytically upgraded to desired fuels and chemicals.
Cellulose is a polysaccharide made of glucose chains. Its basic building block is the
­cellobiose, which consists of two linked glucose units. The typical cellulose chain has a
degree of polymerization of 10,000 units. Cellulose tends to agglomerate and with high
packing densities can form crystalline cellulose. Crystalline cellulose is inert to chemical
treatment and insoluble in most solvents. Cellulose with low packing densities is known
as amorphous cellulose. Microbes consume cellulose efficiently, and they can convert it
into a variety of chemicals most notably ethanol.
Hemicellulose consists of a large number of heteropolysaccharides built from hexoses,
pentoses, and deoxyhexoses. Its degree of polymerization is much lower than cellulose
and in the order of 100–200. Hemicellulose requires acid or enzymatic treatment before its
sugars become available to microbial activity.
The organic composition of biomass feedstock has a significant impact on the types of
processes that can convert it to fuels and chemicals. The proportions of all three organic
compounds impact the types and quantities of degradation compounds formed during
thermochemical biomass conversion. Furthermore, there are interaction effects among
these compounds that are not well understood. Therefore, increasingly powerful analysis
techniques are under development to measure not just the quantity but also the physical
properties of organic compounds.

3.3.2  Biomass Analysis

Proximate analysis is primarily important in thermochemical applications, because it
describes the general evolution of biomass combustion products. Proximate a­ nalysis is
measured by heating biomass under controlled temperature and ­heating rate ­conditions.
The total weight loss from holding the biomass temperature at 100°C ­represents its ­moisture
content. Volatile matter is the fraction of biomass that ­decomposes into gases at moderate
temperatures of about 400°C in an inert environment. The remaining fraction is a mixture
of solid carbon (fixed carbon) and mineral matter (ash). The ash content can be determined
by introducing oxygen and burning the remaining carbon material.
Ultimate analysis is often reported on a dry, ash-free (daf) basis and often used to
­estimate thermal biomass properties. One correlation of the higher heating value (HHV)
of biomass is the formula 3.2 that is based solely on the feedstock carbon content. Although
carbon is the primary factor in determining heating value, oxygen is important because
of its detrimental effect to heating value and recalcitrance to removal. Researchers have
published alternative HHV correlations that incorporate a greater number of factors.

é MJ ù
HHV(dry ) ê ú = 0.4571(% C on dry basis) - 2.70 (3.2)
ë kg û

The thermal performance of biomass fuel depends heavily on its heating value. Heating
value is the net enthalpy released upon reacting fuel with oxygen at stoichiometric
­conditions. It is reported on either a lower heating value (LHV) or higher heating value
(HHV) basis. The difference between LHV and HHV depends on whether the combus-
tion gases are released above or below the water condensation temperature. Below the
Biomass Properties and Resources 65

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10.% 90.%

20.% 80.% Coal 31.78 MJ/kg

Natural gas 50.57 MJ/kg
Oil 41.87 MJ/kg
Herbaceous 19.55 MJ/kg
30.% 70.% Algae 25.32 MJ/kg
MSW 24.51 MJ/kg
Corn 18.54 MJ/kg
Wood 20.03 MJ/kg
40.% 60.%

50.% 50.%

O 10.% 20.% 30.% 40.% 50.% H

Ternary plot of average elemental carbon, hydrogen, oxygen in fossil and biomass materials and their higher
heating values. (Adapted from Anon. Phyllis2 database by ECN (July 2013) available at
phyllis2/Browse/Standard/ECN-Phyllis, accessed March 2015.)

water condensation temperature, the moisture in the fuel contributes a latent enthalpy
heat release, resulting in a higher heat output. Biomass heating value is typically about
18 MJ/kg, but it varies by biomass type as shown in Table 3.2.
There are several comprehensive sources of biomass composition available in textbooks
and online databases. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Biomass Feedstock Composition
and Property Database, and the ECN Phyllis database for example are freely available
online. These databases contain composition and material property data for a wide range
of organic and nonorganic materials. Figure 3.1 compares the HHV of fossil and biomass
materials based on their carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen content [10]. As shown, higher car-
bon content and lower oxygen generally correspond with increasing HHV. However, the
greater hydrogen content in natural gas compensates for a slightly higher oxygen content
than crude oil.
Combustion calculations require knowledge of the fuel’s enthalpy (heat) of formation.
This information is difficult to determine from biomass composition information. It can
however be estimated after measuring the combustion reaction heating value. Consider
the reaction in the following equation:

CHa O b + CO 2 ® CO 2 + dH 2O(liquid). (3.3)

The heating value (ΔHR) can be calculated using Equation 3.4, thermodynamic property
data, and feedstock composition (such as Table 3.2):

DHR = h of,CO2 + dh of,H2 O - (h of,CHa O b + ch of,O2 ). (3.4)

66 Energy Conversion

3.4  Biomass Resources

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Biomass is a term that encompasses a wide range of materials. Scientists generally classify
biorenewable resources as either wastes or dedicated energy crops. A waste is a material
that has been traditionally discarded, because it has no apparent value or represents a
nuisance or even a pollutant to the local environment. Dedicated energy crops are plants
grown specifically for production of biobased products, that is, for purposes other than
food or feed. This section describes estimates for U.S. biorenewable resources.

3.4.1  Waste Materials

Categories of waste materials that qualify as biorenewable resources include municipal
solid wastes (MSWs), agricultural and forest residues and their by-products, and manure.
MSWs refer to anything thrown out in the garbage, and clearly include materials that do
not qualify as biorenewable resources, such as glass, metal, and plastics. MSW includes
food processing waste that is the effluent from a wide variety of industries ranging from
breakfast cereal manufacturers to alcohol breweries. Another category of waste product
is agricultural residues. Agricultural residues are simply the part of a crop discarded by
farmers after harvest such as corn stover (husks and stalks), rice hulls, wheat straw, and
bagasse (fibrous material remaining after the milling of sugarcane). Modern ­agriculture
continues to heavily employ animals. The recent concentration of animals into giant
­livestock facilities has led to calls to treat animal wastes in a manner similar to that for
human wastes. Table 3.3 shows the potential quantities of agricultural and forest residue
available in the United States.
Waste materials share few common traits other than the difficulty of characterizing them
because of their variable and complex composition. Thus, waste biomass presents s­ pecial
problems to engineers who are tasked with converting this sometimes ­unpredictable
feedstock into reliable power or high-quality fuels and chemicals. The major virtue
of waste materials is their low cost. By definition, waste materials have little apparent
­economic value and can often be acquired for little more than the cost of transporting
the material from its point of origin to a processing plant. In fact, it is possible to acquire
wastes at a negative cost because of the rising costs for solid waste disposal and sewer

Potential Agricultural, Forest, and Process Waste Supply in the United States
Annual Biomass Supply (Million Dry Mg/Year)
Logging and other residue 58
Fuel treatments 54
Urban wood residues 43
Wood processing residues 64
Pulping liquor 67
Fuelwood 47
Crop residues 405
Process residues 79
Source: Perlack, R. et al., Biomass as feedstock for a bioenergy and bioproducts ­industry:
The technical feasibility of a billion-ton annual supply, Technical Report A357634,
Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN, 2005.
Biomass Properties and Resources 67

discharges and restrictions on landfilling certain kinds of wastes; that is, a biorenewable
resource processing plant is paid by a company seeking to dispose of a waste stream.
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For this reason, many of the most economically attractive opportunities in biorenewable
resources involve waste feedstocks.
Clearly, a waste material that can be used as feedstock for an energy conversion process
is no longer a waste material. As demand for these new-found feedstocks increases, those
that generate it come to view themselves as suppliers and may demand payment for the
one-time waste: a negative feedstock cost becomes a positive cost. Such a situation devel-
oped in the California biomass power industry during the 1980s [4]. Concerns about air
pollution in California led to restrictions on open-field burning of agricultural residues,
a practice designed to control infestations of pests. With no means for getting rid of these
residues, an enormous reserve of biomass feedstocks materialized. These feedstocks were
so inexpensive that independent power producers recognized that even small, inefficient
power plants using these materials as fuel would be profitable. A number of plants were
constructed and operated on agricultural residues. Eventually, the feedstock producers
had plant operators bidding up the cost of their once nuisance waste material. In the end,
many of these plants were closed because of the escalating cost of fuel.

3.4.2  Energy Crops

Energy crops are defined as plants grown specifically as an energy resource. We should
note that firewood obtained from cutting down an old-growth forest does not constitute
an energy crop. An energy crop is planted and harvested periodically. Harvesting may
occur on an annual basis, as with sugar beets or switchgrass, or on a 5–7 year cycle, as with
certain strains of fast-growing trees such as hybrid poplar or willow. The cycle of planting
and harvesting over a relatively short time period assures that the resource is used in a
sustainable fashion; that is, the resource will be available for future generations.
Energy crops contain significant quantities of one or more of four important energy-
rich components: oils, sugars, starches, and lignocellulose (fiber). Farmers historically
­cultivated crops rich in the first three components for food and feed: oils from s­ oybeans
and nuts; sugars from sugar beets, sorghum, and sugarcane; and starches from corn and
cereal crops. Oil, sugars, and starches are easily metabolized. On the other hand, humans
find it hard to digest lignocellulose. Certain domesticated animals with ­specialized
­digestive tracts are able to break down the polymeric structure of lignocellulose, and
use it as an energy source. From this discussion, it might appear that the best strategy
for developing biomass resources is to grow crops rich in oils, sugars, and starches.
However, even for oil crops or starch crops, the largest single constituent is invariably
lignocellulose (Table 3.4), which is the structural (fibrous) material of the plant: stems,
leaves, and roots. If we harvest oils, sugars, and starches and leave the lignocellulose
behind as an agricultural residue rather than use as fuel, we will waste the greatest por-
tion of the biomass crop.

Typical Woody Biomass Compositions
Component Weight (%)
Cellulose 44 ± 6
Hemicellulose 28 ± 4
Lignin 20 ± 5
68 Energy Conversion

Research has shown that energy yields (Joules per km2 per year) are usually greatest for
plants that are mostly roots and stems; in other words, plant resources are directed toward
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the manufacture of lignocellulose rather than oils, sugars, and starches. As a result, there
has been a bias toward development of energy crops that focus on lignocellulosic biomass,
which is reflected in the discussion that follows.
Dedicated energy crops are typically high fiber crops grown specifically for their high
productivity of holocellulose (cellulose and hemicellulose). Harvesting may occur on an
annual basis, as with switchgrass, or on a 5–7 year cycle, as with certain strains of fast-
growing trees such as hybrid poplar. Lignocellulosic crops are conveniently divided into
herbaceous energy crops (HECs) and short rotation woody crops (SRWCs) [7].
Herbaceous crops are plants that have little or no woody tissue. The aboveground growth
of these plants usually lives for only a single growing season. However, h ­ erbaceous crops
include both annuals and perennials. Annuals die at the end of a growing season and must
be replanted in the spring. Perennials die back each year in temperate climates but ­reestablish
themselves each spring from rootstock. Both annual and perennial HECs are harvested on
at least an annual basis, if not more frequently, with yields averaging 550–1100 Mg/km2/
year, with maximum yields between 2000 and 2500 Mg/km2/year in temperate regions [7].
As with trees, yields can be much higher in tropical and subtropical regions.
Herbaceous crops more closely resemble hardwoods in their chemical properties than
they do softwoods. Their low lignin content makes them relatively easy to delignify, which
improves accessibility of the carbohydrate in the lignocellulose. The hemicellulose contains
mostly xylan, which is highly susceptible to acid hydrolysis, compared to the cellulose. As a
result, microbes can easily degrade agricultural residues, destroying their processing poten-
tial in a matter of days if exposed to the elements. Herbaceous crops have relatively high
silica content compared to woody crops, which can present problems ­during processing.
SRWC is used to describe woody biomass that is fast growing and suitable for use in
dedicated feedstock supply systems. Desirable SRWC candidates display rapid juvenile
growth, wide site adaptability, and pest and disease resistance. Woody crops grown on
a sustainable basis are harvested on a rotation of 3–10 years. Annual SRWC yields range
between 500 and 2400 Mg/km2/year.
Woody crops include hardwoods and softwoods. Hardwoods are trees classified as
angiosperms, which are also known as flowering plants. Examples include willow, oak,
and poplar. Hardwoods can be regrown from stumps, a process known as coppicing,
which reduces their production costs compared to softwoods. Advantages of hardwoods
in processing include: high density for many species; relative ease of delignification and
accessibility of wood carbohydrates; the presence of hemicellulose high in xylan, which
can be removed relatively easily; low content of ash, particularly silica, compared to
­softwoods and herbaceous crops; and high acetyl content compared to most softwoods
and ­herbaceous crops, which is an advantage in the recovery of acetic acid.
Softwoods are trees classified as gymnosperms, which encompass most trees known as
evergreens. Examples include pine, spruce, and cedar. Softwoods are generally fast ­growing,
but their carbohydrate is not as accessible for chemical processing as the ­carbohydrates in
hardwood. Since softwoods have considerable value as construction ­lumber and pulpwood,
they are more readily available as waste material in the form of l­ ogging and m­ anufacturing
residues compared to hardwoods. Logging residues, ­consisting of a high proportion of
branches and tops, contain considerable high-density compression wood, which is not
­easily delignified. Therefore, logging residues are more suitable as boiler fuel or other
­thermochemical treatments than as feedstock for chemical or enzymatic processing.
Biomass Properties and Resources 69

3.4.3 Algae
Algae is a broad term that encompasses several eukaryotic organisms. Eukaryotic organ-
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isms are characterized by complex structures enclosed within their cell membranes.
Although algae do not share many of the structures that define terrestrial biomass, they
are capable of photosynthesis and capturing carbon. Algae’s affinity to convert CO2 into
lipids has drawn academic and industrial attention as a means to simultaneously lower
carbon emissions and produce biofuels.
Algal biomass uses CO2 as its carbon source and sunlight as its energy source. About
1.8 kg of CO2 is fixed for every kg of algal biomass, which contains up to 50% carbon by
dry weight. Controlled production of renewable fuels from algae has been proposed in
either raceway ponds or photobioreactors. Raceway ponds consist of open, shallow recir-
culation channels with mechanical flow control and surfaces that enhance light retention.
Raceway ponds are inexpensive, but relatively inefficient when compared to photobiore-
actors. There are various photobioreactor designs with the common goal of maintaining a
monoculture of algae that is efficiently exposed to sunlight and carbon dioxide. A common
design employs arrays of tubes arranged vertically to minimize land use and oriented
north–south to maximize light exposure.
Given that algae do not require fresh water or fertile soils, waste lands have been
suggested as potential locations to grow algae. One suggestion is to build algae
ponds in the desert Southwest United States where inexpensive flat land, abundant
­sunlight, water from alkaline aquifers, and CO2 from power plants could be com-
bined to generate renewable fuels. Algae’s potential for yields of 1.12–9.40 million
liters of oil/km 2/year promises significant reductions in the land footprint required
to ­produce biofuels.

3.5  Land Use for Biomass Production

Global land use is broadly defined by five categories: pasture, crop, forest, urban, and
abandoned. Pasture is land devoted primarily to animal grazing; crop lands are areas
actively cultivated for food production; forest land contains primarily large trees; urban
areas are heavily populated regions; and abandoned lands are territories that formerly fit
one of the previous categories but are no longer employed for human activities. Humans,
because of population migrations or land use change, alter the portions of land devoted to
each of these categories over time.
Researchers estimate that 14.5 and 33.2 million km 2 of global land area were devoted
to crops and pasture respectively in 2000 [2]. These land use groups can coexist within
the same region. For example, the U.S. Midwest and parts of the Southeast include
regions with more than 70% of the land devoted to crops, and the western sides of the
Midwest and Southern U.S. states have a high concentration of land for pasture.
Modern day farmers devote their production to a small selection of crops depending
on socioeconomic factors. Table 3.5 shows a sample of biomass crops grown in various
geographical regions and their annual yields. Crops such as corn and sugarcane can serve
both food and energy needs due to their high yields of sugar-rich biomass and biomass
residue (stover and bagasse respectively).
70 Energy Conversion

Nominal Annual Yields of Biomass Crops
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Biomass Crop Geographical Location Annual Yield (Mg/km2)

Corn: grain North America 700
Corn: cobs North America 130
Corn: stover North America 840
Jerusalem artichoke: tuber North America 4500
Jerusalem artichoke: sugar North America 640
Sugarcane: crop Hawaii 5500
Sugarcane: sugar Hawaii 720
Sugarcane: bagasse (dry) Hawaii 720
Sweet sorghum: crop Midwest United States 3800
Sweet sorghum: sugar Midwest United States 530
Sweet sorghum: fiber (dry) Midwest United States 490
Switchgrass North America 1400
Hybrid poplar North America 1400
Wheat: grain Canada 220
Wheat: straw Canada 600
Source: Wayman, M. and Parekh, S., Biotechnology of Biomass Conversion: Fuels and Chemicals
from Renewable Resources, Open University Press, Philadelphia, PA, 1990.

We can estimate the amount of biomass available in a given region by assuming nominal
values for crop productivity and available land use data using the equation:

é kg ù é kg ù 2
Total biomass ê ú = f ´ cropyield ê 2 ú ´ landarea [km ] (3.5)
ë year û ë km ´ year û

In Equation 3.5, f is a factor that accounts for crop rotations, farmer participation, and land
conservation among other considerations that restrict the land use. As an example, Iowa
has a total land area of 144,700 km2 that is predominantly covered by corn and soybeans.
In 2010, farmers planted 37.5% of Iowa land with corn, netting an average yield of 165
bushels per acre (1035 Mg/km2). Thus, the total amount of corn grown in Iowa that year
was 56.2 million Mg.
Farmers and seed companies have managed to increase crop yields every year for the
past couple of decades. Crop yield increases follow the exponential growth formula:

é kg ù
Cropyield (t ) ê = cropyield ,0 ekt , (3.6)
ë km úû

k is the growth rate
t is the period of time since the initial value Cropyield,0

The USDA maintains a comprehensive database of agricultural statistics (available online

at The data span several years, and include county-
level data for crops, demographics, economics, animals and products, and environmental
Biomass Properties and Resources 71

The United States benefits from large biomass resources. Based on crop historical
data and growth projections, we can expect traditional biomass resources to continue
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as a ­significant potential energy resource. The development of fast-growing dedicated

energy crops and algae could help address concerns over land use. Much work remains
to c­ ontinue the production and conversion of biomass in economic and environmentally
friendly ways.

1. Brown, R. C. (2003). Biorenewable Resources: Engineering New Products from Agriculture, pp. 59–75.
Iowa State Press, A Blackwell Publishing Company, Ames, IA.
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