UT Group Receives Biofuel Development Study Grant

Researchers at the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture (UTIA) have been awarded a grant for nearly $1 million to determine the key issues surrounding development of year-round woody biomass feedstock systems for commercialized biorefineries in the Southeastern U.S. While corn- and stover-based ethanol plants have had success in the marketplace, facilities producing wood-based cellulosic […]

Researchers at the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture (UTIA) have been awarded a grant for nearly $1 million to determine the key issues surrounding development of year-round woody biomass feedstock systems for commercialized biorefineries in the Southeastern U.S. While corn- and stover-based ethanol plants have had success in the marketplace, facilities producing wood-based cellulosic biofuels have seen few positive results. Study goal is to boost efforts to develop a viable cellulosic biofuel sector by improving woody biomass feedstock logistics for biofuel production. Grant funding is provided by USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative.

The UTIA research team is taking integrated approach: While previous studies typically assume a homogeneous feedstock quality when determining the optimal logistics system, this study will determine woody biomass quality in the Southeast and identify the relationship with conversion performance. Additionally, the cost and energy use for woody biomass feedstock size reduction through both conventional and advanced technologies will be obtained at an industrial scale, and the cost and quality of the feedstock will be incorporated to address the challenges of balancing cost and quality in feedstock logistics for scaling up biofuel production.

The study includes the evaluation of alternative preprocessing technologies for hardwood logging residues and an energy crop—hybrid poplar—to supply biofuel feedstock. The U.S. departments of Agriculture and Energy have identified the Southeastern U.S. as having great potential for cellulosic biofuel production, with woody biomass projected to increase rapidly by 2030, underlining its potential as a major bioenergy feedstock in the region. The project will determine requirements for a profitable bioenergy sector in the Southeast and provide economic analyses for the costs, quality and relative efficiencies at key points in the hardwood feedstock supply system. The study also includes the impact of an established bioenergy sector on the regional economy and the estimated lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions.

Another goal for the three-year study is developing a regional biofuel development plan for utilizing woody biomass in the Southeast. “Findings from this project will be significant because identifying the technologies and methods to supply reliable and consistent quality of feedstock in a feasible logistics system would expedite the development of the biofuel industry in the region and the nation,” says UTIA associate professor and lead researcher Edward Yu. “In addition, a successful bioenergy sector will enhance economic diversification in the rural areas and support a sustainable environment.”

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