Potential Impacts of Bioenergy Production on the Safety of the Transportation Infrastructure

Focus Area



Air Quality







Research Idea Scope

Development of a biofuels industry to meet the Federal mandates for 36 billion gallons of biofuels by the year 2022 will translate into greater harvest of biomass for energy purposes in rural areas including moving greater volumes of harvest equipment along rural roads, increased truck traffic to transport feedstocks from farms and forests to processing facilities, and increased traffic around future cellulosic ethanol and other energy conversion plants. In addition to harvest activity increases, there will be the need for transport of end product to distribution points.  
The safety impacts of increased truck traffic on rural roads are unknown; however biofuels industry researchers are beginning to consider this aspect of the supply chain.  For example, a recent study for New York State biofuels industry (in press 2010) shows that a typical small-scale (60 million gallon/year) cellulosic ethanol plant would require over one hundred thirty truckloads of biomass entering the plant per day, translating to over 47,000 truckloads per year into a typical small plant. This type of truck traffic will have impacts on rural road and bridge Safety that have not been evaluated and further research is required.  Five potential research projects are proposed.
1.  Estimate the range of potential increases in biomass production for energy use and conduct preliminary estimates of increases in biomass loads within the transportation infrastructure, including the impacts on roads and bridges, rails, and the waterways
2.  Risk assessment: Identify and compare risks of moving biofuels to traditional fuels for improved safety (similar to TRB research need statement AT040: Increasing Transportation of Alternative Fuels Impact on Hazardous Materials Transportation)
3.  Risk assessment: Identify and compare transportation risks (including harvest vehicles road use) of moving biomass feedstocks to traditional seasonal-harvest agricultural products
4.  Estimate transportation-related fatalities and injuries due to increased truck traffic around farming/forest communities and ethanol plants and develop Best Practices for establishing safe routes for feedstock and end product transport.
5.  Evaluate condition of rural road visibility due to vegetation types and proximity to roads and develop Best Practices for establishing safer routes through roadside vegetation management to and from biomass feedstock production/harvest sites.

Urgency and Payoff

These projects will enable the federal and state Departments of Transportation to begin to estimate the impacts of substantial increases in bioenergy production on the transportation infrastructure.  These studies will allow planners to begin estimating future demands on roads and bridges, the rails and the waterways and to evaluate the relative safety of their possible options.

Suggested By

Terry Nipp, Sun Grant Association

[email protected]