DOI

10.17077/etd.e0084jp3

Document Type

Thesis

Date of Degree

Spring 2017

Degree Name

MS (Master of Science)

Degree In

Mechanical Engineering

First Advisor

Udaykumar, H. S.

First Committee Member

Priest, R. Tyler

Second Committee Member

Spak, Scott

Third Committee Member

Buchholz, James

Abstract

Miscanthus is a highly productive, low-input biofuel crop that supports agricultural diversification with improved performance for climate commitment, energy security, and water quality over first generation biofuels. Despite its high performance, no local or regional markets for the feedstock have formed in North America, and current climate-based productivity assessment methods lack the information farmers and decision-makers need to establish commercial scale bioenergy markets, programs, and thermal co-firing plans. This study develops a Miscanthus Suitability Rating and a transferable field-scale siting method, applied at 10 m resolution across the State of Iowa to assess miscanthus production potential and identify individual farms that are highly suitable for large-scale miscanthus cultivation while maintaining a majority of existing row cropping acreage. Results show that highly suitable fields within 50 miles (84 km) of each of Iowa’s coal-fired electrical generating units (EGUs) can displace up to 43% of current coal consumption. Every EGU in Iowa has land resource to produce local miscanthus to co-fire with other solid fuels at industry-leading levels without significantly impacting local row crop production. Seven of the state’s smaller facilities could even operate exclusively on local miscanthus with advancements in densification technology. The energy evaluation tool developed in this work estimates the energy return on investment (EROI) of Iowa miscanthus for existing thermal generation facilities between 37 and 59, depending on transportation requirements and chemical field applications. This transition would diversify local agribusiness and energy feedstocks, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide a sustainable, dispatchable, in-state fuel source to complement wind and solar energy.

Public Abstract

Miscanthus is a highly productive, low-input grass that can be burned in power plants in the place of coal. Miscanthus diversifies crop species, reduces carbon emissions in both agriculture and energy systems, increases energy security, and improves water quality over current popular biofuels. Despite its high performance, no local or regional markets for the feedstock have formed in North America, and current climate-based productivity assessment methods lack the information farmers and decision-makers need to establish commercial scale bioenergy markets to supply power plants with the fuel. This study develops a Miscanthus Suitability Rating to evaluate the suitability of individual fields for miscanthus cultivation. This rating is applied across the state of Iowa to estimate the potential volume of the crop that could be reasonably produced and identify individual farms that are highly suitable for large-scale miscanthus cultivation. Results show that highly suitable fields within 50 miles (84 km) of each of Iowa’s coal- fired electrical generating units (EGUs) can displace up to 43% of current coal consumption. Every EGU in Iowa has land resource to produce local miscanthus to co- fire with other solid fuels at industry-leading levels without significantly impacting local row crop production. Seven of the state’s smaller facilities could even operate exclusively on local miscanthus with advancements in densification technology. The energy evaluation tool developed in this work estimates the energy return on investment (EROI) of Iowa miscanthus between 37 and 59, depending on transportation requirements and chemical field applications. This means that the crop would provide 37-59 times more energy than it requires. This transition would diversify local agricultural and energy systems, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and provide a sustainable, in-state fuel source to complement wind and solar energy.

Keywords

alternative energy, biomass, climate mitigation, energy transition, sustainability

Pages

viii, 40 pages

Bibliography

Includes bibliographical references (pages 36-40).

Copyright

Copyright © 2017 Kayley Christina Lain

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