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Energy and Chemicals from Native Grasses: Production, Transportation and Processing Technologies Considered in the Northern Great Plains


  • Tiffany, Douglas G.
  • Jordan, Brendan
  • Dietrich, Erin
  • Vargo-Daggett, Becca


Production of biomass from native prairie species offers the opportunity to produce energy and chemicals while providing substantial ecological services in the Northern Great Plains. This paper analyzes the application of rapid pyrolysis to produce bio-oil, which has the potential for use as a low-grade fuel oil or as a source for extraction of valuable chemicals. Yields of bio-oil, the quantities of extractable chemicals, and chemical prices drive the economics of this concept, which has a more extensive track record utilizing wood chips. A spreadsheet model was developed to determine gross margins available to defray costs to extract and refine such chemical products as hydroxyacetaldehyde, phenol, formic acid, acetic acid and various resins. Although efforts to hydrolyze anhydroglucose were successful, efforts to produce ethanol from the resulting six-carbon sugars were unsuccessful in a related trial. To understand the overall project economics, it was necessary to consider the availability and productivity of lands in the Northern Great Plains that can provide low cost native prairie grasses including Big Bluestem and Switchgrass. Production economics and transportation economics were analyzed to determine the costs of native prairie grasses delivered to a plant capable of pyrolyzing the biomass. Competing technologies that could also use native prairie grasses are considered as well as policy alternatives important for production of energy and chemicals from native prairie grasses.

Suggested Citation

  • Tiffany, Douglas G. & Jordan, Brendan & Dietrich, Erin & Vargo-Daggett, Becca, 2006. "Energy and Chemicals from Native Grasses: Production, Transportation and Processing Technologies Considered in the Northern Great Plains," Staff Papers 13838, University of Minnesota, Department of Applied Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:ags:umaesp:13838

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Duffy, Michael & Nanhou, Virginie, 2002. "Costs of Producing Switchgrass for Biomass in Southern Iowa," Staff General Research Papers Archive 10346, Iowa State University, Department of Economics.
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    Cited by:

    1. Miranowski, John & Rosburg, Alicia, 2010. "An Economic Breakeven Model of Cellulosic Feedstock Production and Ethanol Conversion with Implied Carbon Pricing," Staff General Research Papers Archive 13166, Iowa State University, Department of Economics.
    2. Brechbill, Sarah C. & Tyner, Wallace E. & Ileleji, Klein E., 2008. "The economics of biomass collection and transportation and its supply to Indiana cellulosic and electric utility facilities," Transition to a Bio Economy Conferences, Risk, Infrastructure and Industry Evolution Conference, June 24-25, 2008, Berkeley, California 48732, Farm Foundation.
    3. Reichling, J.P. & Kulacki, F.A., 2011. "Comparative analysis of Fischer–Tropsch and integrated gasification combined cycle biomass utilization," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 36(11), pages 6529-6535.
    4. Zhang, Ke & Johnson, Loretta & Vara Prasad, P.V. & Pei, Zhijian & Wang, Donghai, 2015. "Big bluestem as a bioenergy crop: A review," Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Elsevier, vol. 52(C), pages 740-756.
    5. Sarah C. Brechbill & Wallace E. Tyner, 2008. "The Economics Of Biomass Collection,Transportation, And Supply To Indiana Cellulosic And Electric Utility Facilities," Working Papers 08-03, Purdue University, College of Agriculture, Department of Agricultural Economics.


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