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USDA Research

Overview

Working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Sun Grant Regional Centers are seeking to bring an industrial ecology framework to the development of agricultural-based biofuels and bioproducts systems by developing a database that captures the non-linear behavior of capacity in three core subsystems of biomass utilization: feedstock production, feedstock logistics and feedstock conversion. The Sun Grant Initiative is developing an interactive input/output modeling method for structuring and analyzing agriculturalbased biofuels and bioproducts systems.

The database model will be an important step in realizing the vision of a fully integrated systems approach to bioenergy production. The Sun Grant Regional Centers are collecting detailed information on various aspects of the three subsystems. This information is necessary to conduct a whole life cycle analysis of various production systems in the different regions of the country. Each Sun Grant Regional Center will be generating a subset of the technology coefficients database, as well as capital, operating, and energy cost functions.

  • The Western Regional Sun Grant Center at Oregon State University is focusing its efforts on the production and pre-treatment processing of grass and cereal grain straws.
  • The South Central Regional Sun Grant Center at Oklahoma State University is providing data on production, handling logistics, and conversion of the four feedstocks identified in their Regional Feedstock Workshop, of which sorghum and switchgrass were the top candidates.
  • The Southeastern Regional Sun Grant Center at the University of Tennessee is collecting data on the conversion of 750 acres of land from its current use to switchgrass biomass production. The data set includes production inputs and a detailed account of carbon balance.

  • The North Central Regional Sun Grant Center at South Dakota State University is focusing its efforts on the feedstock conversion subsystem and the impacts of the end use of biochar on the carbon status of biofuels and bioproducts.

  • The Northeast Regional Sun Grant Center at Cornell University is developing the simulation framework and input/output modeling. It is also collecting data for technology coefficients and energy/monetary cost functions associated with aqueous pretreatments.

Agricultural-based biofuels and bioproducts systems are very complex and highly integrated systems. There systems are tightly coupled to even more complex and intricate biosphere systems and subsystem such as carbon and water systems (Dornburg et al., 2004; Munksgaard et al., 2005). Identifying and managing the material and energy flows is essential for sustainable development of agricultural-based biofuels and bioproducts systems (Koening and Cantlon, 2000). Thus, it is important that the Sun Grant Regional Centers play a leadership role in developing system science and engineering tools that will help the nation develop sustainable biofuels and bioproducts systems, and that can be deployed for important life cycle analyses of these systems.

Project Approach

To meet the challenge of creating sustainable agricultural-based biofuels and bioproducts systems we need to develop system models and analytical tools that not only consider process optimization, but also allow the designers of integrated energy and product systems to consider the impact of introducing alternative means of production, alternative energy, and alternative management practices on the global system (Walker, 1984). Many of these concepts need to be explored from a quantitative system perspective in order for us to measure the effectiveness of our system design effort. As noted by Koeing and Cantlon (2000), “industrial ecosystems are defined, not as natural ecology for industrial application, but as bounded networks of engineered ecological processes that are interdependent in a measurable mass, energy, and information sense.” Thus, we propose to develop an interactive input/output modeling method for structuring and analyzing agricultural-based biofuels and bioproducts systems.

Our modeling effort will not be an attempt to develop sophisticated models of individual processes. Instead, we are proposing to use simple generic models of material transformation, transport and storage processes to represent the components of industrial systems and focus on how these processes are linked together to create an industrial ecology (Koening and Tummala, 1972). An important component in the development of this approach is the creation of a database of "technology coefficients" (simple constants for relating inputs and byproducts to the principal material that is being processed or produced), and capital, operating, and energy cost functions that capture the non-linear behavior of capacity. This approach is consistent with the Strategic Energy Science Plan for Research, Education and Extension mission area recently published by the US Department of Agriculture (http://www.ree.usda.gov). The database and model we develop will be an important step in realizing the vision of a fully integrated, systems approach to our nations energy needs. Each of the regional Sun Grant projects will collect detailed information on various aspects of the three subsystems of an agricultural-based biofuels and bioproducts value chain. This information is necessary to conduct whole life-cycle analysis of various production systems in the different regions of the country. These data and model will also help the USDA/REE achieve its first goal of “Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resources Based Energy Production” by 2012. Plus the students involved in this university-based research will be available to populate the bioeconomy workforce by 2012 as outlined in goal 4 of the strategic plan.

Each Sun Grant Regional Center will be generating a subset of the technology coefficients database, and capital, operating, and energy cost functions. The Western Regional Sun Grant Center at Oregon State University will focus their efforts on the production and pre-treatment processing of grass and cereal grain straws. The South-Central Regional Sun Grant Center at Oklahoma State University will be provide data on production, handling logistics, and conversion of the four feedstocks indentified in their Regional Feedstock Workshop of which sorghum and switchgrass were the top candidates. The Southeastern Regional Sun Grant Center at the University of Tennessee will collect data on the conversion of 750 acres of land from its current use to switchgrass biomass production. The data set will include production inputs and a detailed account of carbon. The North Central Regional Sun Grant Center at South Dakota State University will focus it efforts on the feedstock conversion subsystem and the impacts of the end use of biochar on the carbon status of biofuels and bioproducts. The Northeast Regional Sun Grant Center at Cornell University will develop the simulation framework and input/output modeling. They will also collect data for technology coefficients and energy/monetary cost functions associated with aqueous pretreatments.

USDA/Sun Grant Industrial Ecology Complete Project Narrative

 

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