First-order estimates of the costs, input-output energy analysis, and energy returns on investment of conventional and emerging biofuels feedstocks

Document Type: Research Paper

Authors

1 Stalende, LLC 310 4th Ave SE Jamestown, ND 58401, USA.

2 Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011, USA.

3 Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering, Iowa State University, Ames, IA, 50011, USA.

4 Department of Biological Systems Engineering, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, USA.

Abstract

Here we report on a static, algebraic, spreadsheet-implemented modeling approach to estimate the costs, energy inputs and outputs, and global warming potential of biomass feedstocks. Inputs to the model included literature sourced data for: environmental factors, crop physiological-parameters such as radiation use efficiency and water use efficiency, and crop cost components. Using an energy-input-output life-cycle-assessment approach, we calculated the energy associated with each cost component, allowing an estimate of the total energy required to produce the crop and fuel alongside the energy return on investment. We did this for crop scenarios in the upper Midwest US and Far West US (for algae). Our results suggested that algae are capable of the highest areal biomass production rates of 120 MG/(ha·a), ten times greater than Maize. Algal fuel systems had the highest costs, ranging from 28 to 65 US $/GJ, compared to 17 US $/GJ for Maize ethanol. Algal fuel systems had the lowest energy returns on investment, nearly 0, compared to 25 for Switchgrass to ethanol. The carbon equivalent emissions associated with the production schemes predictions ranged from 40 (Maize) to 180 (algae PBR) CO2eq/GJnet. The promise of low cost fuel and carbon neutrality from algae is demonstrated here to be extremely challenging for fundamental reasons related to the capital-intensive nature of the cultivation system.

Graphical Abstract

First-order estimates of the costs, input-output energy analysis, and energy returns on investment of conventional and emerging biofuels feedstocks

Highlights

  • Compared fuel production metrics from various biomass feedstocks.
  • Estimated the carbon equivalent emissions associated with biofuel produciton.
  • Predicted algae biomass production rates of 120 MG/(ha.a), ten times greater than Maize.
  • Predicted algae biofuel costs ranging from 28 to 65 US $/GJ compared to 17 US $/GJ for Maize ethanol.
  • Estimated biofuel energy returns on investment near zero for algae and 25 for Switchgrass.

Keywords