Decarbonization Scenarios in the United States: Comparing Biofuels Growth in Two Models - GCAM and BSM

Swaroop Atnoorkar, Laura Vimmerstedt, Emily Newes, Steve Peterson, Marshall Wise, Candelaria Bergero, Daniel Inman

Research output: NRELPoster


Scenarios for deep decarbonization rely on biomass for biofuels, biopower, and bioproducts, often including negative emissions via carbon capture and storage or utilization. Despite the prominence of biomass in many deep decarbonization pathways, critical questions remain about biomass allocation, effects of transportation electrification, the pace of growth, and implications for agriculture and land use. We address these questions through a unique comparison of carbon pricing effects on the growth of biomass utilization and its effects on land use in the United States by comparing results from a multisectoral integrated assessment model, the Global Change Analysis Model [GCAM], with results from a biomass-to-biofuels system dynamics model, the Biomass Scenario Model [BSM]. We contribute to model comparison efforts by analyzing the biomass deployment needed for a scenario consistent with a "Middle of the Road" Shared Socioeconomic Pathway [SSP2] and a representative concentration pathway of 2.6 W/m2. The GCAM scenarios solve for global equilibrium conditions that are consistent with this pathway, including demands for biomass across all economic sectors and representing bioenergy with carbon capture and storage as a technology option. The BSM scenarios assess those biomass and biofuel results for the United States and identify challenges associated with that pace and amount of expansion. In the scenario analysis, we harmonize key factors such as carbon price trajectory, domestic ethanol fuel demand, ethanol blending, and arable land availability, and vary them in both models. In GCAM, we vary the carbon price, transportation electrification, ethanol blending constraints, and arable land availability inputs and the value of the carbon in land; in BSM, in addition to directly inputting certain GCAM results, we vary the maximum rate of biorefinery construction, flexibility of feedstock types across conversion processes, and policy incentives such as tax credits and renewable identification number payments. The selected carbon price trajectory results in a rapid increase in biofuel production in the United States, reaching about 9.4 EJ/year in 2060 in the highest scenario analyzed in GCAM. Results differ between the two models in timing and ultimate quantity of biomass and biofuel production. GCAM biofuel quantities generally exceed BSM amounts because CCS is applied to biofuel pathways in GCAM, and because of differences in capacity expansion and related dynamics of land allocation, biomass production, and price dynamics. These dynamics include rapid biorefinery capacity expansion in high demand cases. To satisfy this biomass demand, GCAM rapidly equilibrates land allocation, but the BSM limits the rate at which this re-allocation can occur. A further contrast with the equilibrium approach in GCAM is that the BSM represents a delay between planting and harvesting woody biomass resources. As a result of these model contrasts, feedstock costs in BSM increase more than in GCAM, and the absence of CCS in the BSM also reduces the relative economic attractiveness of biofuels production. The bottlenecks, lags, and price increases also lead to potential for volatility in feedstock price and land allocation to biomass in the BSM. GCAM has more biomass production than BSM in all scenarios, partly because of the broader, economy-wide coverage of GCAM, in contrast to BSM's exclusive focus on biofuels. In both models, trends like those of biofuels production were observed for biomass production: minimal growth without a carbon price and policy incentives, and increases with a carbon price, particularly with carbon capture and storage, because the inputs assume that biopower and biofuels decrease greenhouse gas emissions. In high policy scenarios, biomass demand is high, and the consequent high biomass prices due to the land re-allocation bottleneck in the BSM limit biofuel production even if the biorefinery capacity is expanded. However, because biomass prices do not increase as much in the low policy scenario, growth is slower and the land-reallocation bottleneck no longer dominates, such that the effect of increased capacity can be seen. Across both the models, a change in assumptions from less to more land availability increases biofuel production in both GCAM and BSM, as the upward pressure on feedstock price and volatility are both reduced.
Original languageAmerican English
StatePublished - 2022

Publication series

NamePresented at the Integrated Assessment Modeling Consortium, 28 November - 1 December 2022, College Park, Maryland

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/PO-6A20-84601


  • biofuels
  • climate change
  • integrated assessment model
  • land use
  • system dynamics


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