Date of Graduation
Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering
There exist few life cycle assessments (LCAs) in the literature that focus on the second-generation biofuel production from sweet sorghum, a non-food-source feedstock that offers several advantages in terms of farming requirements compared to corn or sugarcane. The objective of this LCA study was to evaluate biofuels produced from sweet sorghum to determine the potential environmental benefits of producing sweet sorghum biofuel compared to conventional fossil fuels. The biofuel production process used for this study differed from other LCAs in that, in parallel to stalk juice extraction and fermentation, residual bagasse and vinasse was pyrolyzed and upgraded to a diesel equivalent as opposed to being fermented or combusted for a source of heat or electricity production. The life cycle inventory included data available in the literature regarding mass and energy input requirements for farming, juice extraction, fermenting, pre-treatment, pyrolysis, and steam reforming steps. Experimental data for bio-oil upgrading was obtained from a pilot plant in Huntsville, AR, including hydrogen gas requirements for hydrotreatment and diesel, biochar, and non-condensable gas yields. The functional unit used for this study was the total kilometers driven by standard passenger vehicles using ethanol, gasoline and diesel produced from 1 ha of harvested sweet sorghum (76 wet tons). Total biofuel yields resulting from this basis were 5,122 L of bioethanol, 2,708 L of gasoline and 780 L of diesel. With these yields, distances of 58,500 km, 21,500 km, and 12,070 km were chosen as the functional unit for the combustion of E85, E10, and diesel, respectively based on vehicle fuel efficiencies from the GREET model. Compared to conventional gasoline, this production process resulted in nearly 50% reduction of GHGs and 46% reduction in fossil fuel depletion, in addition to reductions in eutrophication, ecotoxicity, and carcinogenics. However, fossil fuels were lower by 25%, 45%, and 12% in the categories of non-carcinogenics, respiratory effects, and smog, respectively. These lower impacts for fossil fuels are driven by heavy-metal uptake from corn production and the fact that less electricity is used in the supply chain compared to biofuel production. A Monte Carlo simulation showed the comparative impact assessment results were not sensitive to uncertainty in the life cycle inventory. While the impact assessment showed benefits in producing sweet sorghum biofuel compared to fossil fuels, further research must be conducted on land use and water use. A detailed process simulation, coupled with continued experimental studies of the pyrolysis and upgrading processes, is recommended for further process optimization and heat integration, as well as composition analyses of the various co-products resulting from the process. Further studies will provide valuable information in choosing between feedstocks, specifically those which can be used to produce second-generation biofuels.
Morrissey, Karla, "Life Cycle Assessment of Sweet Sorghum as Feedstock for Second-generation Biofuel Production" (2017). Chemical Engineering Undergraduate Honors Theses. 102.