5
Crosscutting Opportunities

In the previous chapters, the committee approached OFD's R&D on biomass-related ethanol and biodiesel transportation fuels in terms of feedstock development and conversion technologies. This approach was based on the current organization of the OFD program, with R&D on feedstock development centered at ORNL and R&D on conversion technologies centered at NREL. Some common themes that emerged in the process of reviewing the R&D program are described in this chapter.

SYSTEMS ANALYSIS

Advances in R&D have the potential to reduce the costs of bioethanol to a competitive level with petroleum-based fuels. Production costs for bioethanol include feedstock development (production, collection, and handling) and conversion processes (pretreatment, fermentation, distillation, pentose conversion, and cellulase production) (Wyman, 1999). The process of producing a liquid fuel from biomass entails several steps, and a change in any component of the system can affect the other components. For example, improved pretreatment would improve the efficiency of downstream fermentation and enzyme processes. Little is known, however, about the impact of changes in feedstock genetics on the efficiency of pretreatment. An integrated analysis could determine the relationship between feedstock development and conversion processes on the total costs of bioethanol.

Agricultural and forest residues, as well as dedicated energy crops, are potential sources of biomass for conversion to ethanol. Because feedstocks can contribute as much as 40 percent to total bioethanol costs, OFD should make a complete evaluation of the logistics and costs of producing, harvesting, collecting, and transporting feedstocks and their effects on processing economics. Because feedstock residues, such as corn stover, tend to be dispersed, the collection costs of cellulosic biomass usually increase exponentially with distance from the processing plant, and the feedstock collection costs could sharply constrain the optimal size of an ethanol manufacturing plant. Therefore, R&D systems analyses should also evaluate the potential for small-scale processing facilities to decrease the distance between the collection points and the processing plants.

OFD could also consider systems analyses that could be developed further by the private sector for international markets. For example, studies could be performed on processing alternatives that could lower the capital intensity and raise the labor intensity of production processes. Flexibility in this regard would enhance a company's potential for exporting bioethanol conversion technology to regions that have lower labor costs and less available capital than the United States.

An integrated review of both the feedstock and processing components of OFD's programs could determine the best opportunities for major new technology options and for reducing costs with minimal environmental impact. Process engineers and plant scientists from NREL and ORNL could then collaborate on the development of advanced models that would optimize bioethanol costs across the entire system from feedstock production through manufacturing. A systems approach would enable researchers to identify and target crosscutting opportunities to overcome technological barriers.

Recommendation.

The Office of Fuels Development should consider developing an integrated systems model that encompasses feedstock development, collection, storage, transport, and biomass processing. This model could reveal research and development directions for reducing costs, optimizing synergies among technologies, and prioritizing projects to achieve program goals in light of changing market opportunities.

TECHNOLOGY INTEGRATION

R&D should be integrated to address the overall manufacturing system. For example, research on pretreatment should be coordinated with enzyme development and



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OCR for page 32
Review of the Research Strategy for Biomass-Derived Transportation Fuels 5 Crosscutting Opportunities In the previous chapters, the committee approached OFD's R&D on biomass-related ethanol and biodiesel transportation fuels in terms of feedstock development and conversion technologies. This approach was based on the current organization of the OFD program, with R&D on feedstock development centered at ORNL and R&D on conversion technologies centered at NREL. Some common themes that emerged in the process of reviewing the R&D program are described in this chapter. SYSTEMS ANALYSIS Advances in R&D have the potential to reduce the costs of bioethanol to a competitive level with petroleum-based fuels. Production costs for bioethanol include feedstock development (production, collection, and handling) and conversion processes (pretreatment, fermentation, distillation, pentose conversion, and cellulase production) (Wyman, 1999). The process of producing a liquid fuel from biomass entails several steps, and a change in any component of the system can affect the other components. For example, improved pretreatment would improve the efficiency of downstream fermentation and enzyme processes. Little is known, however, about the impact of changes in feedstock genetics on the efficiency of pretreatment. An integrated analysis could determine the relationship between feedstock development and conversion processes on the total costs of bioethanol. Agricultural and forest residues, as well as dedicated energy crops, are potential sources of biomass for conversion to ethanol. Because feedstocks can contribute as much as 40 percent to total bioethanol costs, OFD should make a complete evaluation of the logistics and costs of producing, harvesting, collecting, and transporting feedstocks and their effects on processing economics. Because feedstock residues, such as corn stover, tend to be dispersed, the collection costs of cellulosic biomass usually increase exponentially with distance from the processing plant, and the feedstock collection costs could sharply constrain the optimal size of an ethanol manufacturing plant. Therefore, R&D systems analyses should also evaluate the potential for small-scale processing facilities to decrease the distance between the collection points and the processing plants. OFD could also consider systems analyses that could be developed further by the private sector for international markets. For example, studies could be performed on processing alternatives that could lower the capital intensity and raise the labor intensity of production processes. Flexibility in this regard would enhance a company's potential for exporting bioethanol conversion technology to regions that have lower labor costs and less available capital than the United States. An integrated review of both the feedstock and processing components of OFD's programs could determine the best opportunities for major new technology options and for reducing costs with minimal environmental impact. Process engineers and plant scientists from NREL and ORNL could then collaborate on the development of advanced models that would optimize bioethanol costs across the entire system from feedstock production through manufacturing. A systems approach would enable researchers to identify and target crosscutting opportunities to overcome technological barriers. Recommendation. The Office of Fuels Development should consider developing an integrated systems model that encompasses feedstock development, collection, storage, transport, and biomass processing. This model could reveal research and development directions for reducing costs, optimizing synergies among technologies, and prioritizing projects to achieve program goals in light of changing market opportunities. TECHNOLOGY INTEGRATION R&D should be integrated to address the overall manufacturing system. For example, research on pretreatment should be coordinated with enzyme development and

OCR for page 32
Review of the Research Strategy for Biomass-Derived Transportation Fuels fermentation because pretreatment will reduce the need for enzymes, affect the types of enzymes needed, and also affect the fermentation step. Furthermore, R&D in plant genetics could lead to the development of feedstocks that are amenable to particular pretreatments. Other R&D on bioethanol processing may also be amenable to integration. R&D conducted at several technology-based research centers would improve coordination across research areas and contribute to a knowledge base that would support the development of future technologies. Technology-based research centers should attract the very best, most knowledgeable people available and should be adequately funded. Technology-based research centers might be established, for instance, to focus on pretreatment (as mentioned above), enzyme development, genetic engineering genomics, and coproduct production. These centers should be designed and managed to promote collaboration and communication among researchers. Because many experts are working in academia and because of the several distinct technologies essential to bioethanol research, coordinated research centers could facilitate interdisciplinary and crosscutting research. At the same time, the participation of experienced process design engineers from industry could keep research focused on reducing costs. A broad community of professionals would stimulate innovative research in the key technologies for the future biofuels industry. Recommendation. In keeping with its management role in the development of biofuels for the nation, the Office of Fuels Development should reinforce its program in crosscutting research. The establishment of several technologybased research centers would facilitate the integration of research results and foster collaboration among experts from government, industry, and academia. INCREASING LINKS Cellulosic biomass could potentially be used as raw material to produce a variety of products, including liquid fuels, organic chemicals, and electric power. For example, a biorefinery could integrate the production of ethanol liquid fuel with high-value organic chemicals (e.g., specialty enzymes) to increase the profitability of processing plants. The committee commends DOE for establishing a Bioenergy Initiative to develop national partnerships with other federal agencies and the private sector. Integrated R&D on bioenergy will encompass existing R&D by DOE on transportation fuels, biomass power, and forest products and agricultural industry programs to encourage the development of a variety of fuels, power sources, chemicals, and other products based on the diversity of cellulosic biomass feedstocks across the country (DOE, 1999). By extending its relationships with other federal agencies, university, and industrial partners, OFD could take advantage of fundamental knowledge and technologies that could reduce the costs of biomass production and processing. Recommendation. The Office of Fuels Development should strengthen its links and take advantage of synergies between its research and development program and other programs of the U.S. Department of Energy, government agencies, universities, and industry to leverage public-sector funds and take advantage of scientific and engineering advances in the integrated processing of diverse feedstocks and options for a variety of products. IMPROVED PEER REVIEW A strong R&D program in biofuels will require careful monitoring of its performance. The OFD has shown that it is sensitive to the allocation of public funds for achieving its R&D goals by developing quantitative milestones to measure program performance. A recent report of the President' s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology recommended that industry, national laboratory, and university oversight committees work with DOE to provide overall direction to energy R&D programs. In addition, the report recommended that all DOE energy programs be subjected to outside technical peer reviews every one or two years (PCAST, 1997). The committee also encourages OFD to continue using outside reviews to evaluate its biofuels program. Outside reviews can provide a basis for regular input on proposed R&D projects and measurements of the performance of ongoing projects. Effective outside reviews can increase the probability of success of a program. In the case of OFD, improvements could increase the likelihood of the development of cost-effective technologies for the production and manufacture of bioethanol. To reinforce these reviews, OFD should seek input from researchers involved in biofuels activities outside of the R&D program under review, as well as disinterested scientists and engineers from the academic and industrial communities. This will increase the technical quality and objectivity of the review process. Researchers and program managers should be held accountable for research directed toward specific performance goals and established milestones. If the planned objectives are not achieved, OFD should determine the reasons for the shortfalls. Recommendation. The Office of Fuels Development should establish clear criteria for evaluating project performance levels and should include reviewers from academia, industry, and other government programs in its evaluation.