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Taking a Systems Approach for Sustainable Fuels and Energy. The 2008 Mid-Atlantic RC&D Conference September 22, 2008. Presented by: Donna Perla, Senior Advisor U.S. EPA, perla.donna@epa.gov. Overview of Presentation. Sustainability requires systems thinking Two Examples:

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taking a systems approach for sustainable fuels and energy

Taking a Systems Approach for Sustainable Fuels and Energy

The 2008 Mid-Atlantic RC&D Conference

September 22, 2008

Presented by: Donna Perla, Senior Advisor

U.S. EPA, perla.donna@epa.gov

overview of presentation
Overview of Presentation
  • Sustainability requires systems thinking
  • Two Examples:
    • Overview of Biofuels as a system
      • Exploring feedstock options for fuel and power
      • Exploring power options
    • Woody Biomass as feedstock for power in small boilers
  • Helpful Resources
sustainable development epa insights
Sustainable Development EPA Insights

Environmental protection does not preclude economic development.

Economic development must be ecologically viable now and in the long run.

Sustainable Development requires integration of economic, social, and environmental policies.

EPA’s contribution to sustainability is to protect human health and the environment for this and future generations.

Sustainable environmental outcomes must be achieved in a system-based and multi-media context that focuses on the environment without neglecting the roles of the economic patterns and human behavior.

some tenets of sustainability
Some Tenets of Sustainability
  • The sustainability of natural systems is critical to protecting human health, supporting our economy, and maintaining our quality of life.
  • We must assess benefits of renewable resources and system-wide effects of use on the regenerative capacity of the entire system.
  • Need greater conservation and efficient use of non-renewable resources, greater reliance on renewable energy, development of substitutes for toxic and dangerous materials, and emphasis on increasing the value of materials (rather than managing them as wastes)
  • Must be mindful of the inter-generational and long-term threat posed by chemical and biological impacts on the environment.
  • Life cycle assessment are needed to understand multi-media and local, regional, national, global impacts
  • Sustainability depends on human behavior and choice
  • Sustainability metrics, environmental monitoring, and information infrastructures must be available for decision-makers (industry, regulators, investors, consumers) to advance sustainability
environmental challenges and benefits
Environmental Challenges and Benefits
  • Will depend on the type of:
    • Fuel
    • Feedstock
    • Conversion Technology
    • Geographic Location of Operations
    • Characteristics and Status of Natural Resources and Environment
    • Releases to the Environment from Practices and Technologies
  • Need tools to ensure resilience of natural resource systems, ecosystem services, and human health and weigh trade-offs in achieving various goals
    • Local, regional, national, global
    • Environmental, economic, social
    • Energy security, rural development, environmental improvement, GHG reductions

Corn Ethanol & Corn oil, corn gluten meal, corn gluten feed, CO2, liquid fertilizers

Dry-mill Fermentation

Corn, Grains, Sugars, &


Wet-mill Fermentation

Corn Etahnol, DDGS & CO2

Cellulosic Ag Residues

Hydrolysis (Acids, enzymes, steam explosion) & Fermentation

Cellulosic Ethanol, CO2, residual cellulose & lignin, electricity, thermal energy

Combustible gases, liquids, tars, Ethanol & other alcohols, diesel type fuels, gasoline, charcoal, ash, CO2, electricity, & thermal energy

Woody Biomass




Syngas and charcoal, Bio-oil, electricity, and thermal energy


Anaerobic Digestion

Biogas, thermal energy, liquid & solid fertilizers


Oil seeds & plants


Biodiesel & glycerins

Oils, fats,, used cooking oils, & Greases


need to understand the entire system
Need to Understand the Entire System
  • Input & output flows of materials to support the system
  • Relationships and inter-dependence of various components of system
  • Not obvious, but important, feedback loops, intended & unintended consequences
  • Vulnerabilities & stressors impacting system’s resilience
  • Impacts to other natural & man-made systems; environmental impacts
  • Optimizing sustainability through optimizing economic, technical, and geographic relationships between components of the system









End Use

The Biofuel System –A “Mega-Simultaneous Equation”


Biochemical Conversion

Thermochemical Conversion

Biological Conversion

Chemical Conversion


Fuel types

Power & Generators

Chemical Feedstocks for Manufacturing

Ag Crops

Ag Residues

Energy Crops

Forest Residues



Transportation fuels in light & heavy duty vehicles & trucks, Off -Road vehicles, Locomotives, Flight technologies, Boats/Ships

Harvesting & Collecting




Distribution by barge, truck, rail, pipeline

Storage in tanks




Biomass Resources

Today:Nearly all ethanol is made from corn grain

Projected U.S. Biofuel Sources

The Future:Cellulosic biomass will be the primary source for fuel ethanol


Other (8%)

Crop Residues

  • Sources of Cellulosic Biomass:
    • Agricultural residues
    • Forestry residues
    • Terrestrial & aquatic crops and trees grown for energy purposes
    • Selected municipal, agricultural, and industrial wastes

Perennial Crops




Forest Resources

In the future, far more ethanol will be made from cellulosic biomass than from corn.

* Source: Biomass as Feedstock for a Bioenergy and Bioproducts Industry: Technical Feasibility of a Billion Ton Annual Supply. 2005. DOE and USDA.

what are the environment health safety sustainability questions for biofuels systems
What Are the Environment, Health, Safety, & Sustainability Questions for Biofuels Systems?










End Use

Practices /Trends:

land use changes

Crop rotation shifts; new crops

irrigation, nutrient & pesticide applications

GMO use


Integration of thermochemical, biochemical, chemical, and biological conversion technologies with water, energy and other demands:

Production of fuels, power, heat, and chemicals for manufacturing

Land & infrastructure needs

Large volume production of co-products (e.g., DDGs and glycerol)

Practice/ Trends:

Harvest of agricultural residuals

Transportation of feedstock


Use existing pipeline, barge, truck, and tank infrastructure

Build new infrastructure


Varying concentrations of Ethanol, Biodiesel, and other fuels

Varying adoption rates and geographical distribution

  • Environmental Questions / Do these practices effect::
  • - NPS run-off of N, P, and pesticides?
  • - soil erosion and productivity?
  • - water availability, acreage & function of waters?
  • - water quality, hypoxia, pathogen levels in waters?
  • Biodiversity?
  • - Net energy use?
  • - GHG emissions?

Environmental Questions / Do these practices effect::

Air quality?

Water quality and quantity?

- What wastes are generated? Management options?

- Microbial contamination of co-products

- Are there opportunities for sustainable use of co-products?

- Can designs optimize environmental outcomes? (e.g., CHP, DfE, Green Chemistry)

life cycle impacts of biofuels production and use
Life Cycle Impacts of Biofuels Production and Use










End Use


  • Assess Impacts Across the Life Cycle:
  • Energy Balance
  • GHG emissions
  • Air emissions
  • Land use (change in acreages) to estimate life cycle GHG emissions

- Renewable Fuel Standard

  • Land use impacts on forests, grasslands, and wetlands
  • Water Quality and Quantity
  • Biodiversity
  • Materials Use

- Other social and economic impacts

agricultural feedstock practices
Agricultural Feedstock Practices
  • Genetic Modification
  • Water Use
  • Crop Rotation
  • Nutrient and Pesticide Applications
  • Harvesting of Agricultural Residues
  • Tillage
agricultural feedstock questions
Agricultural Feedstock Questions
  • Genetic Modification:
    • Transfer to non-GM plants
    • Allergencity in foods
    • Ecological effects
    • Potential for Invasive Species
    • Beneficial impacts such as decreased pesticide applications
agricultural feedstock questions15
Agricultural Feedstock Questions
  • Water:
    • Irrigation needs based on geographic location, conditions, crops (and associated energy demand)
    • Water availability based on geographic characteristics, crop requirements, other uses, precipitation and temperature changes
    • Water quality affected by practices, drainage and run-off of nutrients, pesticides, sediments, salt balance and subsequent environmental and human health exposures
agricultural feedstock questions16
Agricultural Feedstock Questions
  • Crop Rotation:
    • Resistance to pests and pesticides
    • Soil productivity
    • Carbon storage in soil
    • Effects on nutrient and pesticide applications and rates
  • Pesticide Application:
    • Impacts to vulnerable or endangered species
    • Water contamination and subsequent exposures
    • Pesticide residues in co-products (e.g., DDGs) and introduction into the food chain
agricultural feedstock questions17
Agricultural Feedstock Questions

Comparison of fertilizer requirements

Nutrient Application:

  • Nutrient loading to watersheds and relationship of number of acres and types of crops planted
  • Algal/cyanobacterial growth
  • Ecological imbalances


agricultural feedstock questions18
Agricultural Feedstock Questions
  • Harvesting Agricultural Residues
    • Thresholds for soil productivity
    • Effects on soil carbon
    • Effects on nutrient attenuation and water quality
  • Land Use
    • Types of suitable productive land
    • Amount of land required to meet production goals
non agricultural crop residue feedstocks many feedstock options
Non-Agricultural Crop & Residue FeedstocksMany Feedstock Options



-Animal Rendering

-Fats & Greases


-Sewage Sludge

-Construction & Demolition Debris

-Urban Wood Waste

-Food Processing Waste


Are we optimizing use of ALL feedstock?

how do other feedstocks compare
How Do Other Feedstocks Compare?


  • GHG and other air emissions
  • Nutrients
  • Wastes
  • Water contamination
  • Tons/acre biomass


  • Land Use
  • Energy Inputs
  • Water Inputs
  • Chemical Inputs
  • Nutrients
consider wastes as feedstock
Consider Wastes as Feedstock
  • Most wastes contain carbon and could serve as potential sources of biofuels feedstock and/or energy for making biofuels
  • How could wastes contribute to:
    • Cost-effectiveness
    • Environmental benefits
    • GHG reductions
    • Enhance production to meet national volumetric goals
converting waste as a feedstock has environmental and material value
Converting Waste As a Feedstock Has Environmental and Material Value
  • Manures – reduce nutrient loadings
  • Food Processing wastes – reduce waste management needs
  • Woody Biomass – reduce wildfires; increase landfill diversion
  • Construction and Demolition – increase landfill diversion
  • MSW – increase landfill diversion; may also increase recycling rates, based on location & material
  • Disaster Debris – landfill diversion; risk management
consider msw as a feedstock
Consider MSW as a Feedstock

Municipal solid waste (MSW) is the largest potential source of carbon that we already collect regularly, at a cost (rather than a value) to the generator, with an established infrastructure, but it rarely is discussed in national or international circles as a potential feedstock

why consider waste as a feedstock
Why Consider Waste as a Feedstock?
  • A large majority of waste is landfilled with no value retrieved
    • 251 MT of MSW generated in 2006 (245 MT in ‘05)
    • 82 MT recycled in 2006 (79 MT in ’05)
    • 31.4 MT combusted with energy recovery in 2006 (33 MT in ’06)
    • 20.8 MT composted in 2006
    • 117.4 MT landfilled or burned w/o energy recovery in 2006
  • Composition of Waste
    • ~ 65% is biogenic (paper, yard trimmings, food scraps, wood)
    • ~ 12% plastic
    • Remainder is metal, glass, and low carbon materials
why consider waste as a feedstock25
Why Consider Waste as a Feedstock?
  • Up to 75% of MSW is theoretically capable of serving as a carbon source for:
    • alternative fuels
    • use as a fuel for power and heat, significantly reducing energy demand and GHG emissions for production of fuels
  • Potential energy value:
    • 1600 trillion Btu, a nationally significant energy source (adding up to 10% of estimated available biomass)
  • Average BTU Value of MSW:
    • ~ 8,000 BTU/lb


Less waste generated and less toxic materials in waste through P2 & Waste Minimization

Materials Management – A Sustainable Systems Approach




  • Agricultural residues
  • Animal manures
  • Food processing residues
  • Forest thinnings
  • Mill residues
  • construction and
  • demolition wastes
  • MSW:
  • - waste water biosolids
  • - paper and cardboard
  • - food wastes
  • - green wastes
  • - plastics
  • - glass







  • Collection, transfer, pre-processing/sorting
  • Recycling, conversion, or landfilling
  • Product Development, Distribution, Use
  • Questions:
  • Energy input vs. output
  • Emissions: GHG, air, water, waste
  • Water Balance
  • Materials Balance
  • Economic Value (which ultimately drives behavior)




waste information needed
Waste Information Needed
  • Types and Volumes of Waste
  • Waste Composition (recyclable, chemical, and Btu content)
  • Geographic Distribution
  • Infrastructures to Support Collection, Processing, Conversion
  • Economics for different waste management scenarios
  • Performance efficiencies of existing and new technologies (e.g., gasification, pyrolysis, coal fired utilities)
  • Emissions data for all management options, including:
    • Landfills (including design, operation, & gas collection)
    • Recycling
    • Collection and separation (including vehicles)
    • Integrated biofuels production platforms
  • Comparisons with Other Feedstocks
disadvantages of msw
Disadvantages of MSW
  • Conversion technologies are not proven in the market place
  • Carbon neutrality in some dispute (i.e., plastics)
  • Impact on existing recycling programs
    • EPA near term national goal is 35% or higher
      • significantly reduce GHG emissions by conserving energy and use of fossil fuels
    • Need life cycle assessment of:
      • Wastes as a feedstock vs. other feedstocks
      • Wastes as a feedstock vs. recycling
      • Wastes as a feedstock vs. landfilling
  • Public stigma against “burning” trash
  • Regulatory disincentives
comparative life cycle assessments needed
Comparative Life Cycle Assessments Needed
  • What’s in the Feedstock that could be potentially harmful? (plastics, chemicals, pathogens)
  • Water Use / Efficiency
  • Land Use
  • Air Emissions
  • Chemical Applications
  • Collecting and Sorting Residues
  • Carbon releases
  • Energy Input : Energy Output
  • Geospatial Relationship Between Feedstock, Conversion Technology, and Product

Transport to and from Conversion

Conversion Technology

Feedstock Production

who s thinking about it
Who’s Thinking About It?
  • BioGold Fuels, Harvey County, Kansas (Aug, 08)
    • Will build a facility that will process ~ 33,500 tons/yr MSW, tires, and other county waste into sythetic diesel fuel and chemicals
    • Will be located at the County’s closed landfill
    • Includes county’s transfer station, waste processing, hauling, and trucking equipment
    • Will get $35/ton of waste it receives
    • 30 yr term, with four 10 yr extensions
  • Agresti Biofuels, Pike County, Kentucky (Aug, 08)
    • Plans to build a facility that will process ~ 1,500 tons/day MSW
    • Will be located next to County’s landfill
    • Will produce 20 million gallons of fuel each year
    • Will recycle all plastics and metals
  • Warrenton, VA
  • Stamford, CT
who s thinking about it32
Who’s Thinking About It?
  • GEI Waste Systems, Cheyenne, Wyoming (Feb 08)
    • Plans to build a facility that will make fuel pellets from 200 tons/day MSW
    • Will get $25/ton of waste it receives
    • Will sort recyclables
  • Ichiki-town, Kyushu, Japan
    • Gasification of MSW
  • BlueFire Ethanol, El Sobrante, California
    • Will produce 17 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year from green waste, wood waste and other cellulosic urban wastes derived from landfills
woody biomass as fuel
Woody Biomass As Fuel
  • Number of unregulated woody biomass boilers may be increasing rapidly throughout US due to:
    • Recent laws (e.g., Nat’l Energy Policy Act, Farm Bill) promoting use of renewable fuels
      • USDA, DOE, DOI June 2003 MOU promoting use of woody biomass by-products to help diversify US energy supply
      • USFS PR (Aug 2007): 35 applications for wood-energy program grants submitted by 24 states in single year
    • Cost of fossil fuels
    • Shift in focus of wood-fuel industry from residential to commercial and institutional applications
  • <10 mmBtu boilers: no federal regulations, but regulated by some states
  • Concern about ensuring air pollution controls for boilers converting to wood in NAAQS nonattainment areas for ozone or PM or both
considerations for use of woody biomass as fuel in small boilers
Considerations for Use of Woody Biomass As Fuel in Small Boilers
  • What impact on air quality does promotion of conversion to wood boilers have?
  • Need better characterization of the extent of the issue:
    • Numbers of existing/planned small boilers using woody biomass
    • Control technologies (existing or being developed)
    • Effect of maintenance on boilers
    • PM2.5, condensable PM, and HAPs emissions
    • Potential human exposures to PM 2.5 and HAPs
    • Health effects, especially to sensitive populations such as children and people with chronic lung disease
who s thinking about it35
Who’s Thinking About It?
  • US Forest Service
  • Boiler Manufacturers
  • States
  • US EPA
    • Alison Simcox 617-918-1684


    • Catherine Roberts 303-312-6025


    • Karen Blanchard 919-541-5503


thinking out of the box
Thinking ‘Out of the Box’

Will Lead to Success!

  • Science and Technology for Sustainability www.epa.gov/sustainability
    • Sustainability Research Strategy,

Office of Research and Development

    • Biomass Conversion: Emerging Technologies, Feedstocks, and Products

Office of Research and Development

  • U.S. EPA’s Municipal Solid Waste Decision Support Tool www.epa.gov/ord/NRMRL/scienceforum
    • Susan Thorneloe (919) 541-2709; thorneloe.susan@epa.gov
msw decision support tool
MSW Decision Support Tool
  • Identifies materials management scenarios that balance resource consumption, environmental burdens, and cost
  • Identifies least cost management option for specific materials subject to a community’s waste composition, infrastructure, and goals
  • Analyzes all available waste management processes: collection, transport, recycling, source reduction, composting, combustion, thermochemical conversion, and landfilling
    • (including conventional, bioreactor/wet, and monofill landfills)
  • Evaluates life-cycle, multi-media, multi-pollutant tradeoffs
    • Calculates difference between materials produced from “virgin” resources vs. materials recovered from MSW
  • Includes full cost accounting
  • 50 studies done, many related to specific communities

Region 7 has developed this guide to environmental laws applicable to ethanol plants

Will also be developing a guide for biodiesel plants in the near future