On Earth Day and every day, BETO is working to improve the sustainability of the transportation industry in the United States through the development and deployment of commercially viable, high-performance, domestic biofuels. BETO’s Sustainability subprogram closely studies the life-cycle impacts of bioenergy production on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, all while striving for production that preserves clean air and improves soil and water quality.

Closed Carbon Loop Cycle of Sustainability

The Bioenergy Technologies Office focuses efforts on multiple facets of sustainability, including economic, social, and environmental. (Graphic courtesy of BCS, Incorporated)

Biofuels offer significant potential to reduce life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions compared to petroleum fuels, as shown in the graphic comparing petroleum fuel to biofuel produced from renewable plant material. Although producing and burning biofuels does release carbon dioxide, biomass absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during photosynthesis. In contrast, petroleum fuels release carbon that has been stored for long periods of time, causing a net increase in atmospheric carbon. If you follow the green arrows of the biomass-to-biofuel cycle, you can see that some of the emissions released by vehicles are offset by the process of photosynthesis that occurs as biomass grows; this results in net emissions of 2.7 kilograms of carbon dioxide per gallon of gasoline equivalent. This process is shown in contrast to traditional petroleum extraction and conversion, which is depicted with orange arrows. In the petroleum cycle, 11.3 kilograms of carbon dioxide are released per gallon of gasoline equivalent, over 8 kilograms more than with biofuels production.1

The reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by displacing traditional petroleum fuels with plant-based biofuels is just one way bioenergy can help us all live in a cleaner, healthier world. In addition to BETO’s work to improve the environmental sustainability of the bioindustry, the Office is promoting improvements in social and economic sustainability as well.

Improving social sustainability involves workforce training and increasing access to domestic energy. As the graphic depicts, social sustainability is advancing through job creation in the current bioindustry by supporting more than 87,000 direct jobs and 86,000 indirect jobs in 2012.2

Economic sustainability becomes closer to reality through an economically viable bioenergy industry, which includes efforts to increase efficiency, productivity, and profitability. The bio-industry’s contribution to the nation’s gross domestic product—$43.4 billion in 2012 alone3—is a clear sign of the economic sustainability of this still growing industry.

To learn more about BETO’s sustainability efforts, please visit the Sustainability Web page.

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1 Emissions from biofuels based on corn stover ethanol results. Results are rounded: Wang, M., Han, J., Dunn, J.B., Cai, H., and Elgowainy, A. "Well-to-wheels energy use and greenhouse gas emissions of ethanol from corn, sugarcare and cellulosic biomass for US use." December 13, 2012. Environmental Research Letters.

2 Urbanchuk, J.M. "Contribution of the Ethanol Industry to the Economy of the United States." January 31, 2013. Prepared for the Renewable Fuels Association. http://ethanolrfa.org/page/-/PDFs/2012%20Ethanol%20Economic%20Impact.pdf?nocdn=1 

3 Urbanchuk, J.M. "Contribution of the Ethanol Industry to the Economy of the United States." January 31, 2013. Prepared for the Renewable Fuels Association. http://ethanolrfa.org/page/-/PDFs/2012%20Ethanol%20Economic%20Impact.pdf?nocdn=1