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Supply Cost and Life-Cycle Greenhouse Gas Footprint of Dry and Ensiled Biomass Sorghum for Biofuel Production


Biomass sorghum is a promising feedstock for cellulosic biorefineries because of its high yield and drought tolerance. However, the difficulty of effectively drying sorghum in some regions means that it may require different handling than previously studied grassy feedstocks. This study compares the delivered cost and life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint of field drying and baling, module storage (wrapped, densely packed biomass), pelletizing, and ensiling. Ensiling has not been widely considered for use in bioenergy production. For farms within 66 km of the biorefinery, ensiled biomass is of the lowest cost and GHG strategy despite additional cost and energy demand for hauling wet biomass. Field drying and baling, if feasible, is the most cost-effective option for sorghum between 66 km and 104 km, beyond which pellets are preferable. A 2000 bone-dry-metric ton (bdt)/day biorefinery can source sorghum with 18 bdt/ha yield cultivated on 5% of surrounding land at costs ranging from $122 (silage) to $167 (pellets)/bdt and a life-cycle GHG footprint of 111 (silage) to 179 kg CO2e/bdt (pellets). With 28 bdt/ha biomass yield, 10% cultivation of surrounding land, and low fertilizer application, costs can range from $66 (silage) to $85 (pellets)/ bdt and GHG footprint of 43 (silage) to 96 kg CO2e (pellets)/bdt.

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