Establishing a Dedicated Energy Crop Supply Chain: The Tennessee Switchgrass Experience

Monday, November 8, 2010: 9:20 AM
251 A Room (Salt Palace Convention Center)
Samuel W. Jackson, Office of Bioenergy Programs, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN

The University of Tennessee Biofuels Initiative (UTBI) is Tennessee's answer to the global challenge of securing sustainable, renewable, affordable energy while advancing the local economy and protecting the environment. The Biofuels Initiative is a farm-to-fuel business plan developed by State of Tennessee, UT Institute of Agriculture, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers. Tennessee has made an unparalleled commitment to lead the transition to an advanced biofuels economy with a commitment to support the development of a dedicated bioenergy crop supply chain and the construction of a 250,000 gallon per year demonstration cellulosic ethanol facility. Working with private industrial partners, UT aims to establish a dedicated energy crop (switchgrass) supply chain, demonstrate and improve the technologies used to create cellulosic ethanol, reduce the costs of production, and ultimately commercialize the technology across the state. Tennessee has the potential to produce over a billion gallons of ethanol each year, replacing 30 percent of the state's current petroleum consumption. This effort will serve as a model for commercialization for cellulosic biofuels as well as other biobased energy and products. Multiple research programs involving dozens of faculty are underway in support of the biofuels program. Researchers with foci ranging from agronomics to biofuels conversion to bioproducts are leading the way. One of the key elements of the integrated Biofuels Initiative is a demonstration-scale cellulosic ethanol biorefinery in East Tennessee, supplied by local biomass. For this endeavor, Genera Energy, LLC has been established. Genera Energy is a for-profit limited liability company formed in 2008 by the University of Tennessee Research Foundation as a vehicle to carry out the cellulosic biorefinery activities and capital projects of the UTBI. Genera Energy was specifically created to provide the commercial flexibility needed to develop collaborations and partnerships with private entities with technology or other resources to contribute to the UTBI. Genera Energy, which is managed by a Board of Directors, collaborated with DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol to construct a pilot-scale cellulosic ethanol biorefinery. The biorefinery commenced operations in December 2009. When running at full capacity, the biorefinery will produce 250,000 gallons per year of cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass. The Tennessee Biofuels Initiative takes a farm-centric approach to feedstock development, working with local farmers to develop a program that provides direct payments to farmers for switchgrass production as well as one-on-one technical assistance through UT Extension and wide-ranging research related to all aspects of the feedstock supply chain. Approximately 6000 acres of switchgrass have been planted on over 60 private farms in the region. The UT Biofuels Initiative has the largest planting of switchgrass on private farms in the United States. Switchgrass produced on participating farms will be utilized in the pilot scale biorefinery to produce ethanol as well as other products. An established feedstock supply of this scale, provides significant opportunity for research and development related to feedstock production, harvesting, storage, transportation, and preprocessing, and environmental sustainability. The University and Genera Energy have made significant progress in these areas, integrating new and existing technologies to improve the overall efficiency and sustainability of the feedstock supply system. Ultimately, the development of the cellulosic biofuels supply chain, from biomass to fuels and products, will have a significant impact on the energy future of the state and nation. These new systems, technologies, and products will provide increased economic opportunities for rural economies, increased energy security for the nation, and improved environmental impacts of energy production/utilization.

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