Modeling the Environmental Implications of Emerging Industrial Ecology-based Bio-refinery System

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Research Details

Rising above the recent issue of food vs. fuel,  a possible step towards clean, secure and sustainable energy is to produce biofuels from non-food sources. Utilizing woods or switchgrass to produce biofuel through flexible technologies is technically and environmentally feasible when we build an industrial ecology-modeled biorefinery under the overarching principle of sustainability. Sustainability in resources involves the continued existence and use of resources to meet human physical, economic and social needs. This sustainability paradigm involves recognizing interconnections between ecological, social, and economic systems. Criteria and indicators will be used to operationalize the principle of sustainable development in biofuel industry. Majority of the existing models for biofuels have not considered the triple dimensions of sustainability as well as the interplay of relevant variables over time. This research aims to develop a system model that is dynamic, integrative and considers the multi-criteria expectations of various stakeholders in the development of sustainable bio-fuel supply chains. Besides quantifying the feedstock consumption and fossil fuel replacement, the primary focus is on analyzing the life cycle environmental performance of forest bio-fuels (e.g. emissions to air, water) and resource consumptions (e.g. water, energy and land). Nonetheless, social and economic aspects such as population increase, growth in economy and employment are important and also considered.

Using dynamic system modeling approach, the interrelationships of critical variables describing sustainability of resources and bio-fuels will be modeled quantitatively over a finite time horizon. A valid model will be used for scenario analysis to assess whether production pathways using available feedstocks can really contribute towards meeting the development of sustainable biofuels supply chain. This project will create a decision support tool that aids in building public confidence in resource management, decision making, and support for investment in the infrastructure needed to facilitate and support large-scale biofuel operations and trading. The resulting model can be used as a template to analyze biofuel technologies and supply chains and serves as a foresighting tool to forecast the trends in the availability of energy crops and assess the impacts of conversion technologies in bio-fuels industry to support  greenhouse gas reduction. This tool could suggest the optimal feedstock/technology mix to maximize the replacement of  petroleum in Maine economy and beyond.