Date of Award

Fall 12-18-2015

Level of Access

Campus-Only Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Ecology and Environmental Sciences

Advisor

Jonathan Rubin

Second Committee Member

Sharon Klein

Third Committee Member

M. Clayton Wheeler

Additional Committee Members

Robert Lilieholm

David Hiebeler

Sabrina Spatari

Abstract

Biofuel production requires careful sustainability analysis across its life cycle that compares the tradeoffs between the environmental, economic and social costs and benefits. This dissertation focuses on assessing the sustainability of ThermoDeOxygenated (TDO) drop-in biofuel technology, which is compatible with the existing transportation infrastructure, developed at the University of Maine.

The assessment was carried out in an integrated framework by incorporating social, environmental and economic variables in R software platform. A life cycle assessment model was developed to assess the energy and greenhouse gas emissions of drop-in biofuel. It was found that this fuel has remarkably low greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel energy requirement compared to other similar technologies and conventional diesel.

The level of emission reductions depend on how the co-products are treated. For example, when there is excess char and that displaces coal, an energy intense non-renewable fuel, the benefits are remarkably high. These benefits are relatively low when less energy intense products such as biomass and electricity consumption mix are displaced. The Renewable Fuel Standard (RSF2) compliant feedstock (i.e. forest biomass) availability was estimated taking into consideration both economic and ecological factors. The new estimates found that 3.9 million dry tons of biomass can be harvested from Maine’s forest annually. The study found that the Environmenal Protection Agency (EPA)’s definition of renewable biomass is unclear, especially in the case of naturally regenerated forest biomass in Maine, which significantly affects the amount of RFS compliant biomass from Maine’s forest.

A key outcome of this dissertation is that there is a need for integrated sustainability assessment models to better inform decision makers. This dissertation has developed an integrated framework based on multi-criteria decision analysis to evaluate the sustainability of drop-in biofuel.

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