Providing a Sustained Biomass Supply: Implications of Feedstock Variation
Timothy Rials, Director of R&D, Office of Bioenergy Programs, University of Tennessee, 2506 Jacob Drive, Knoxville, TN 37996-4570
Significant investment is being directed to the development of new technologies for converting lignocellulosic biomass to liquid fuels, primarily ethanol. Both thermochemical and biochemical processes are under development, and research is investigating the fundamental and technical challenges that currently impact economic viability. The equally important issue of feedstock production and supply for these biorefinery operations is receiving far less attention. With the planned construction of a pilot-scale facility, The University of Tennessee is concerned with providing feedstock for the 24/7 operation of this biochemical conversion plant. Recently, approximately 720 acres in east Tennessee (16 farms) have been seeded with switchgrass, with additional acreage planned for 2009. This operation provides a unique opportunity for study of the supply chain logistics associated with the sustained supply of a dedicated bioenergy crop. Also of interest is the question of feedstock quality. Near infrared spectroscopy has been developed for the high-throughput analysis of wood and biomass. Current work seeks to adopt this tool for on-line monitoring of important feedstock characteristics, including chemical composition. The potential to reduce variability of feedstock, or to more effectively utilize biomass property variation, will be discussed in terms of system viability.