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Analysis of environmental and economic tradeoffs in switchgrass supply chains for biofuel production

Zhong, Jia, Yu, T. Edward, Larson, James A., English, Burton C., Fu, Joshua S., Calcagno, James
Energy 2016 v.107 pp. 791-803
Panicum virgatum, carbon, cost effectiveness, crop production, cropland, feedstocks, fuel production, greenhouse gas emissions, greenhouse gases, land use, models, opportunity costs, pastures, soil, soil erosion, spatial data, supply chain, Tennessee
This study considered the environmental advantages of switchgrass, along with the economic challenges in its logistics, in the design of a sustainable switchgrass supply chain in Tennessee. Applying a multi-objective optimization model to high-resolution spatial data, potential tradeoffs among the objectives of minimizing feedstock costs, GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions, and soil erosion were identified for a set of conversion facilities on an efficient frontier. The tradeoff relationship was primarily driven by the type of agricultural land converted to switchgrass. Hay and pasture lands were more cost effective but resulted in higher soil carbon losses and soil erosion after being converted to switchgrass. Converting crop lands reduced GHG emissions and soil erosion but caused higher feedstock cost primarily due to the higher opportunity cost of land use. The respective average costs of abating GHG emissions and soil erosion on the efficient frontier were $2378 Mg⁻¹ and $10 Mg⁻¹. The compromise solution conversion facility site generated 63% higher feedstock cost compared to the cost minimizing location, while reducing soil erosion by 70 fold and diminishing GHG emissions by 27%. Reducing soil erosion may be a more cost effective environmental criterion than reducing GHG emissions in developing a sustainable switchgrass supply chain in Tennessee.