New Modeling Tool Combines Environmental and Economic Analysis of the Biorefinery in Agricultural Landscapes

Cellulosic biofuel systems have the potential to significantly reduce the environmental impact of the world's transportation energy requirements.

The Science

Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) researchers have provided a direct simulation of different biorefinery configurations in realistic agricultural landscapes for diverse locations throughout the United States. Since no full-scale commercial examples of a cellulosic biorefinery yet exist, forecasting the risks and tradeoffs of the complete biofuel production chain requires the use of modeling tools. Developed at GLBRC, the Biorefinery and Farm Integration Tool (BFIT) enables a combined modeling approach, including both crop and animal production, for analyzing potential economic profitability as well as environmental impacts. Focusing on ethanol production from the two largest anticipated sources of cellulosic biomass—corn stover and switchgrass—BFIT simulated the farm-biorefinery interactions for nine different agricultural regions using county-specific data for soil, weather, and farm practice patterns. In all cases, cellulosic biofuel production was integrated into existing farmlands. Results from the simulated scenarios include projections for land area requirements, annual farm income, nitrogen loss, greenhouse gas emissions, total project investment, and minimum ethanol selling price. Based on these projections, GLBRC researchers show that introducing the cellulosic biorefinery and associated markets could improve farm economics and reduce emissions without additional clearing of lands for biofuels. Sensitivity analysis using BFIT revealed those variables having the strongest effects on the overall system performance, namely: biorefinery size, switchgrass yield, and biomass farm gate price.


BFIT research results are reported in Sendich, E. D., and B. E. Dale. 2009. “Environmental and Economic Analysis of the Fully Integrated Biorefinery,” GCB Bioenergy 1, 331–45. DOI:10.1111/j.1757-1707.2009.01027.x.