Pioneer cellulosic biorefineries across the United States rely on a conventional feedstock supply system based on one-year contracts with local growers, who harvest, locally store, and deliver feedstock in low-density format to the conversion facility. While the conventional system is designed for high biomass yield areas, pilot scale operations have experienced feedstock supply shortages and price volatilities due to reduced harvests and competition from other industries. Regional supply dependency and the inability to actively manage feedstock stability and quality, provide operational risks to the biorefinery, which translate into higher investment risk. The advanced feedstock supply system based on a network of depots can mitigate many of these risks and enable wider supply system benefits. This paper compares the two concepts from a system-level perspective beyond mere logistic costs. It shows that while processing operations at the depot increase feedstock supply costs initially, they enable wider system benefits including supply risk reduction (leading to lower interest rates on loans), industry scale-up, conversion yield improvements, and reduced handling equipment and storage costs at the biorefinery. When translating these benefits into cost reductions per liter of gasoline equivalent (LGE), we find that total cost reductions between –$0.46 to –$0.21 per LGE for biochemical and –$0.32 to –$0.12 per LGE for thermochemical conversion pathways are possible. Naturally, these system level benefits will differ between individual actors along the feedstock supply chain. Further research is required with respect to depot sizing, location, and ownership structures.
Idaho National Laboratory