Date of Award


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Chemical Engineering (MS)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Chemical Engineering


David Shonnard


Renewable hydrocarbon biofuels are being investigated as possible alternatives to conventional liquid transportation fossil fuels like gasoline, kerosene (aviation fuel), and diesel. A diverse range of biomass feedstocks such as corn stover, sugarcane bagasse, switchgrass, waste wood, and algae, are being evaluated as candidates for pyrolysis and catalytic upgrading to produce drop-in hydrocarbon fuels. This research has developed preliminary life cycle assessments (LCA) for each feedstock-specific pathway and compared the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of the hydrocarbon biofuels to current fossil fuels. As a comprehensive study, this analysis attempts to account for all of the GHG emissions associated with each feedstock pathway through the entire life cycle. Emissions from all stages including feedstock production, land use change, pyrolysis, stabilizing the pyrolysis oil for transport and storage, and upgrading the stabilized pyrolysis oil to a hydrocarbon fuel are included. In addition to GHG emissions, the energy requirements and water use have been evaluated over the entire life cycle. The goal of this research is to help understand the relative advantages and disadvantages of the feedstocks and the resultant hydrocarbon biofuels based on three environmental indicators; GHG emissions, energy demand, and water utilization. Results indicate that liquid hydrocarbon biofuels produced through this pyrolysis-based pathway can achieve greenhouse gas emission savings of greater than 50% compared to petroleum fuels, thus potentially qualifying these biofuels under the US EPA RFS2 program. GHG emissions from biofuels ranged from 10.7-74.3 g/MJ from biofuels derived from sugarcane bagasse and wild algae at the extremes of this range, respectively. The cumulative energy demand (CED) shows that energy in every biofuel process is primarily from renewable biomass and the remaining energy demand is mostly from fossil fuels. The CED for biofuel range from 1.25-3.25 MJ/MJ from biofuels derived from sugarcane bagasse to wild algae respectively, while the other feedstock-derived biofuels are around 2 MJ/MJ. Water utilization is primarily from cooling water use during the pyrolysis stage if irrigation is not used during the feedstock production stage. Water use ranges from 1.7 - 17.2 gallons of water per kg of biofuel from sugarcane bagasse to open pond algae, respectively.