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Bridging the gap between feedstock growers and users: the study of a coppice poplar-based biorefinery

Dou, Chang, Gustafson, Rick, Bura, Renata
Biotechnology for biofuels 2018 v.11 no.1 pp. 77
Populus, bioenergy industry, biomass production, biorefining, biotransformation, chemical composition, coppicing, crops, enzymatic hydrolysis, feedstocks, growers, income, land productivity, models, steam, sugars, tree farms, trees
BACKGROUND: In the biofuel industry, land productivity is important to feedstock growers and conversion process product yield is important to the biorefinery. The crop productivity, however, may not positively correlate with bioconversion yield. Therefore, it is important to evaluate sugar yield and biomass productivity. In this study, 2-year-old poplar trees harvested in the first coppice cycle, including one low-productivity hybrid and one high-productivity hybrid, were collected from two poplar tree farms. Through steam pretreatment and enzymatic hydrolysis, the bioconversion yields of low- and high-productivity poplar hybrids were compared for both sites. RESULTS: The low-productivity hybrids had 9–19% higher sugar yields than the high-productivity hybrids, although they have the similar chemical composition. Economic calculations show the impact on the plantation and biorefinery of using the two feedstocks. Growing a high-productivity hybrid means the land owner would use 11–26% less land (which could be used for other crops) or collect $2.53–$3.46 MM/year extra revenue from the surplus feedstock. On the other side, the biorefinery would receive 5–10% additional revenue using the low-productivity hybrid. CONCLUSION: We propose a business model based on the integration of the plantation and the biorefinery. In this model, different feedstocks are assessed using a metric of product tonnage per unit land per year. Use of this new economic metric bridges the gap between feedstock growers and users to maximize the overall production efficiency.