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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Economic sustainability modeling provides decision support for assessing hybrid poplar-based biofuel development in California

  • Author(s): Bandaru, Varaprasad
  • Parker, Nathan C
  • Hart, Quinn
  • Jenner, Mark
  • Yeo, Boon-Ling
  • Crawford, Jordan T
  • Li, Yuanzhe
  • Tittmann, Peter
  • Rogers, Luke
  • Kaffka, Stephen
  • Jenkins, Bryan M
  • et al.

Biofuels are expected to play a major role in meeting California's long-term energy needs, but many factors influence the commercial viability of the various feedstock and production technology options. We developed a spatially explicit analytic framework that integrates models of plant growth, crop adoption, feedstock location, transportation logistics, economic impact, biorefinery costs and biorefinery energy use and emissions. We used this framework to assess the economic potential of hybrid poplar as a feedstock for jet fuel production in Northern California. Results suggest that the region has sufficient suitable croplands (2.3 million acres) and nonarable lands (1.5 million acres) for poplar cultivation to produce as much as 2.26 billion gallons of jet fuel annually. However, there are major obstacles to such large-scale production, including, on nonarable lands, low poplar yields and broad spatial distribution and, on croplands, competition with existing crops. We estimated the production cost of jet fuel to be $4.40 to $5.40 per gallon for poplar biomass grown on nonarable lands and $3.60 to $4.50 per gallon for biomass grown on irrigated cropland; the current market price is $2.12 per gallon. Improved poplar yields, use of supplementary feedstocks at the biorefinery and economic supports such as carbon credits could help to overcome these barriers.

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