421084 Techno-Economic Analysis of Semi-Arid Agave Species for Bioethanol Production

Wednesday, November 11, 2015: 6:20 PM
Exhibit Hall 1 (Salt Palace Convention Center)
May-Ling Lu, Center for Environmental Research and Technology (CE-CERT), Chemical and Environmental Engineering Department, Bourns College of Engineering, University of California, Riverside, CA and Charles E. Wyman, Chemical and Environmental Engineering, University of California, Riverside and Center for Environmental Research and Technology, Riverside, CA

One of the key challenges to widespread biofuels production from lignocellulosic biomass is the high cost of conversion stemming from the complex fibrous structure and heterogeneous composition of such resources.  As a result, pretreatment is generally necessary to reduce biomass recalcitrance and achieve high yields.   Although pretreatment improves porosity and enzyme penetration and reduces obstacles to high yields in biomass deconstruction, it is energy intensive and responsible for a large portion of the capital and operating costs for biochemical conversion.  However, because feedstocks and pretreatment are intimately linked in that the selection of one influences the choice of the other, a promising solution to the commercialization challenge of recalcitrance is to focus on biomass that requires minimal pretreatment and associated costs.  One such promising biomass is agave that has the added advantages of thriving at arid conditions that are hostile to other plants and growing very rapidly in more favorable climates.  In particular, agave has a low lignin content, suggesting lower recalcitrance compared to conventional C3 or C4 agricultural crops.  This techno-economic study evaluated the feasibility of converting agave to bioethanol by integrating the cost of agave cultivation as an energy crop with a simplified processing approach that takes advantage of the reduced recalcitrance of the plant.  A positive economic assessment for the most easily deconstructed portion of the plant, the stem which is rich in sugar, can elucidate the commercial potential of using this plant and suggest opportunities for focusing research to confirm the plant’s biofuel viability.  A negative economic assessment from such a study, however, would highlight important hurdles to commercial conversion of agave to fuels.

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