Development of an optimization model for biofuel facility size and location and a simulation model for design of a biofuel supply chain

Fengli Zhang



To mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and reduce U.S. dependence on imported oil, the United States (U.S.) is pursuing several options to create biofuels from renewable woody biomass (hereafter referred to as “biomass”). Because of the distributed nature of biomass feedstock, the cost and complexity of biomass recovery operations has significant challenges that hinder increased biomass utilization for energy production. To facilitate the exploration of a wide variety of conditions that promise profitable biomass utilization and tapping unused forest residues, it is proposed to develop biofuel supply chain models based on optimization and simulation approaches. The biofuel supply chain is structured around four components: biofuel facility locations and sizes, biomass harvesting/forwarding, transportation, and storage. A Geographic Information System (GIS) based approach is proposed as a first step for selecting potential facility locations for biofuel production from forest biomass based on a set of evaluation criteria, such as accessibility to biomass, railway/road transportation network, water body and workforce. The development of optimization and simulation models is also proposed. The results of the models will be used to determine (1) the number, location, and size of the biofuel facilities, and (2) the amounts of biomass to be transported between the harvesting areas and the biofuel facilities over a 20-year timeframe. The multi-criteria objective is to minimize the weighted sum of the delivered feedstock cost, energy consumption, and GHG emissions simultaneously. Finally, a series of sensitivity analyses will be conducted to identify the sensitivity of the decisions, such as the optimal site selected for the biofuel facility, to changes in influential parameters, such as biomass availability and transportation fuel price.

Intellectual Merit

The proposed research will facilitate the exploration of a wide variety of conditions that promise profitable biomass utilization in the renewable biofuel industry. The GIS-based facility location analysis considers a series of factors which have not been considered simultaneously in previous research. Location analysis is critical to the financial success of producing biofuel. The modeling of woody biomass supply chains using both optimization and simulation, combing with the GIS-based approach as a precursor, have not been done to date. The optimization and simulation models can help to ensure the economic and environmental viability and sustainability of the entire biofuel supply chain at both the strategic design level and the operational planning level.

Broader Impacts

The proposed models for biorefineries can be applied to other types of manufacturing or processing operations using biomass. This is because the biomass feedstock supply chain is similar, if not the same, for biorefineries, biomass fired or co-fired power plants, or torrefaction/pelletization operations. Additionally, the research results of this research will continue to be disseminated internationally through publications in journals, such as Biomass and Bioenergy, and Renewable Energy, and presentations at conferences, such as the 2011 Industrial Engineering Research Conference. For example, part of the research work related to biofuel facility identification has been published: Zhang, Johnson and Sutherland [2011] (see Appendix A). There will also be opportunities for the Michigan Tech campus community to learn about the research through the Sustainable Future Institute.