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Systems Biology for Energy and the Environment

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Genomic Science Program

Sustainability of Biofuels
Future Research Opportunities

Report from the October 2008 Workshop

Publication date: April 2009

Suggested citation: U.S. DOE. and USDA 2009. Sustainability of Biofuels: Future Research Opportunities; Report from the October 2008 Workshop, DOE/SC-0114. U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science and U.S. Department of Agriculture ( and

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Background: To assess the current state of the science underlying the sustainability of an emergent cellulosic biofuel sector and to identify further research needs, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Research, Education, and Economics mission area and the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science cosponsored a workshop on October 28-29, 2008.

Although the term “sustainability” has been defined in many ways, common to these definitions is the theme of meeting the needs of present and future generations. Sustainable biofuel production is economically competitive, conserves the natural resource base, and ensures social well-being. This report summarizes critical research areas and knowledge gaps relevant to the environmental, economic, and social dimensions of biofuel sustainability. It also underscores the critical need for a common socioecological framework to develop a systems-level understanding for how these dimensions interact across different spatial scales—from the small plot or farm to regional to very large scales such as political, national, and global scales. In addition to forging a responsible path for implementing cellulosic biofuels, much of what can be discovered about biofuel sustainability will provide important insights into successful future agricultural and forest production—the dependable and abundant supply of food, fiber, and feed.

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