CBES LogoThe Center for BioEnergy Sustainability (CBES) is a leading resource for dealing with the environmental impacts and the ultimate sustainability of biomass production for conversion to biofuels and bio-based products. Its purpose is to use science and analysis to understand the sustainability (environmental, economic, and social) of current and potential future bioenergy production and distribution; to identify approaches to enhance bioenergy sustainability; and to serve as an independent source of the highest quality data and analysis for bioenergy stakeholders and decision makers. It focuses on

  • Bioenergy options from a systems perspective
  • Sustainability as a combination of environmental, economic, and social concerns
  • Appropriate scales for addressing bioenergy sustainability concerns
  • Tradeoffs in implications of land-use and land-management decisions
  • Quantifying environmental, economic, and social implications of bioenergy choices at local, regional, and global scales
  • Lignocellulosic feedstock options and their implications for ecosystem services and social and economic benefits
  • Sustainability metrics

Concerns about the social, economic, and environmental effects are driven by the ambitious U.S. goals to displace large portions of consumed petroleum with biofuels in a relatively short time. However, these concerns are not unique to the United States; similar ones have been raised in other countries that have other goals, potential feedstocks, and cropping and conversion systems. As a result, a worldwide need exists for high-quality data on the impacts and sustainability of biofeedstock production and for comprehensive analyses of the production, use, and sustainability of biofuels. CBES provides those data and analyses.

ORNL researchers have been performing analyses of biofeedstock options and have been researching the development of dedicated bioenergy crops for the past 30 years. That research has

  • Fostered understanding of the systems context in which energy decisions are made
  • Evaluated the feasibility and implications of sustainable bioenergy options through field, laboratory, and model experiments 
  • Tested, calibrated, and determined sensitivities and uncertainties of models and their projections
  • Assessed the data used to characterize bioenergy options
  • Communicated scientific results to decision makers

Researchers at ORNL have world-class facilities, capabilities, and tools for the analysis of the production of biofuels and of transportation systems and fuels, including biofuels. Many seminal contributions by these experts (e.g., the Billion Ton Study) have already undergirded decision making at the national and international levels. Over time, CBES will broaden its local, regional, national and global outreach and serve as a key means for ORNL to share its high-quality data and analysis regarding the sustainability of bioenergy with diverse stakeholders and decision makers.

As a result of its three decades of experience, ORNL has a comprehensive portfolio of research and development in bioenergy. It has more than 80 staff members working on such aspects of bioenergy as systems biology, biochemical engineering, national and global bioenergy analysis, resource economics, logistics modeling, spatial-data analysis and modeling, geospatial science and technology, transportation analysis, and environmental effects. This research portfolio is supported by the Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and Department of Agriculture.

On the operational level, CBES is a focal point and business-development vehicle for ORNL’s capabilities related to bioenergy sustainability and socioeconomic analyses. As such, it complements the BioEnergy Science Center (BESC), also located at ORNL, which focuses on the problem of converting lignocellulosic biomass into reactive intermediaries necessary for the cellulosic biofuel industry. Together, these centers provide a strong integrating mechanism and business-development tool for ORNL's science and technology portfolio in bioenergy. In close collaboration with BESC and the established program offices and line organizations, CBES

  • Promotes, coordinates, and leverages the diverse suite of projects related to bioenergy sustainability across ORNL
  • Sponsors outreach events to inform CBES associates, government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and the public through symposia and workshops on sustainability issues
  • Develops background materials for stakeholders and the public that summarize the state of bioenergy sustainability understanding
  • Is producing an expert analysis of the state of the art of bioenergy sustainability
  • Takes advantage of the 10,000 acres of switchgrass plantings under the Tennessee Bioenergy Initiative to study the ecology of large-scale biomass production and to address the regional-scale environmental benefits and challenges of cellulosic ethanol production in the southeastern United States

You can contact CBES by writing, calling, or e-mailing
Virginia Dale, Director
Center for BioEnergy Sustainability
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Oak Ridge, TN 37831-6035
Tel: 865-576-8043
Fax: 865-574-7287

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Analysis of Forest Service data shows that benefits accrue when sustainable forest management provides wood pellets for energy that keep fossil fuel in the ground. The data supporting this analysis is at View Here

International report presents status and prospects for renewable energy using wood pellets from the southeastern United States. View here.

In March, Virginia Dale, Erin Webb and Magen Shedden participated in a conference titled “The Great Experiment” at the University of Tennessee that focused on learning from producing switchgrass for bioenergy in east Tennessee. The videos from the conference are posted View here.

Virginia Dale discusses bioenergy sustainability:

The 2016 Billion-Ton Report (BT16), Volume 2: Environmental Sustainability Effects of Select Scenarios from Volume 1, jointly released by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), is a pioneering effort to analyze a range of potential environmental effects associated with illustrative near-term and long-term biomass-production scenarios from the 2016 Billion-Ton Report, Volume 1.

For more information on archived news items, please click here.

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