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Bioresource Technology 191 (2015) 88–96

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Bioresource Technology
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Techno-economic analysis of advanced biofuel production based

on bio-oil gasification
Qi Li a, Yanan Zhang b, Guiping Hu a,c,⇑
Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011, USA
Department of Mechanical Engineering, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011, USA
Bioeconomy Institute, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011, USA

h i g h l i g h t s

 We modeled and evaluated a fast pyrolysis integrated bio-oil gasification pathway.

 Larger facility capacity is preferred based on Monte-Carlo simulations.
 Fuel yield and biomass feedstock cost are the most important factors.

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: This paper evaluates the economic feasibility of an integrated production pathway combining fast pyrol-
Received 10 March 2015 ysis and bio-oil gasification. The conversion process is simulated with Aspen PlusÒ for a 2000 metric ton
Received in revised form 1 May 2015 per day facility. Techno-economic analysis of this integrated pathway has been conducted. A total capital
Accepted 2 May 2015
investment of $510 million has been estimated and the minimum fuel selling price (MSP) is $5.59 per
Available online 12 May 2015
gallon of gasoline equivalent. The sensitivity analysis shows that the MSP is most sensitive to internal
rate of return, fuel yield, biomass feedstock cost, and fixed capital investment. Monte-Carlo simulation
shows that MSP for bio-oil gasification would be more than $6/gal with a probability of 0.24, which indi-
Techno-economic analysis
Bio-oil gasification
cates this pathway is still at high risk with current economic and technical situation.
Fast pyrolysis Ó 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction and anaerobic digestion are limited by high viscosity substrate,

high enzymes cost and process complexity (Chen, 2012; Zhang
Biofuels are playing an increasingly important role as a cleaner et al., 2014b). Recently, thermochemical conversion of biomass
substitute for fossil-based fuels. Second generation biofuels such as (mainly pyrolysis and gasification) has attracted increasing atten-
corn stover, switchgrass, and woody biomass are made from tion since the first commercial-scale biorefinery in the U.S. has
nonedible plant residues or dedicated energy crop which are less started to operate since 2012 applying a catalytic fast pyrolysis
land and water intensive (Carriquiry et al., 2011). The revised and hydroprocessing platform (Brown, 2015).
Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2) has been enacted to accelerate Fast pyrolysis produces bio-oil (70–75 wt%), bio-char (10–
the domestic biofuel production and consumption in the U.S. The 15 wt%) and non-condensable gases (10–15 wt%) by thermally
RFS2 mandates that by the year 2022, at least 36 billion gallons decomposing organic feedstock in the absence of oxygen (Butler
per year of renewable fuels will be produced and blended into et al., 2011; Zhang et al., 2014a). Fast pyrolysis can be combined
the transportation fuel, of which at least 16 billion gallons per year with other bio-oil upgrading pathways (e.g., hydrotreating and
should be produced from cellulosic biomass feedstock (Schnepf, hydrocracking) to produce transportation fuels and hydrogen
2011). (Wang et al., 2013a; Wang et al., 2013b; Zhang et al., 2013c),
Biomass can be converted to transportation fuels through a although bio-oil upgrading is a challenging process for its low fuel
variety of production pathways, including biochemical and ther- quality and conversion efficiency. On the other hand, biomass gasi-
mochemical platforms. Biochemical process such as fermentation fication followed by the Fischer–Tropsch (FT) synthesis is a rela-
tively mature technology to produce liquid fuels (Timilsina and
⇑ Corresponding author at: 3014 Black Engineering, Iowa State University, Ames, Shrestha, 2011) for high efficiency cycles (Knoef and Ahrenfeldt,
IA 50011, USA. 2005). However, commercialization of biomass gasification is
E-mail address: (G. Hu).
0960-8524/Ó 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Q. Li et al. / Bioresource Technology 191 (2015) 88–96 89

hampered by high logistic cost of feedstock. In recent years, it has The rest of paper is organized as follows: in Section 2, the
been suggested that integrating fast pyrolysis and gasification by methodology is presented with a focus on the process design.
going through bio-oil gasification would possibly overcome this Then, techno-economic analysis results and analysis are discussed
technical and logistic challenges (Badger and Fransham, 2006; Li in Section 3. Finally, we conclude the paper in Section 4 with sum-
and Hu, 2014; Zhang et al., 2013a). mary of research findings.
There is an increasing literature on techno-economic analysis
(TEA) for a variety of advanced biofuel production pathways with 2. Methods
a range of feedstock and products. The TEA of biomass gasification
using corn stover as the feedstock by Swanson et al. (2010) claimed In this section, the method for this techno-economic study is
that the minimum fuel selling price (MSP) is about $5 per gallon of presented. Materials and technologies are firstly selected according
gasoline equivalent (GGE) and the total capital investment (TCI) is to commonly adopted criteria. Aspen PlusÒ process engineering
$500–650 million for a 2000 metric ton per day (t d1) facility. software is employed to develop the detailed process model.
Zhang et al. conducted a techno-economic analysis of biohydrogen Capital and operation costs of the plant are evaluated using the
production via bio-oil gasification and concluded that an internal output of process models and literature data.
rate of return (IRR) of 8.4% is realized with the prevailing market
price (Zhang et al., 2013a). The TCI of fast pyrolysis facility with 2.1. Materials and technologies
a capacity of 2000 t d1 is $429 million and an MSP is 2.57 $/GGE
(Brown et al., 2013). Manganaro and Lawal (2012) analyze a path- A variety of feedstock and operational design decisions are to a
way that combined fast pyrolysis, and FT synthesis. A TCI of $231 certain degree subjective and flexible for the bio-oil gasification
million is calculated for a 2000 t d1 biorefinery with a MSP of pathway, e.g., gasification conditions, syngas cleanup techniques,
3.74 $/GGE, assuming an 8% IRR. and fuel synthesis methods. These system operating parameters
Although there are a large number of techno-economic analyses are selected following commonly adopted criteria in literatures:
on biomass gasification and fast pyrolysis alone, the process design (i) the technology should be commercialized in the next 5–8 years;
and techno-economic analysis of the integrated pathway have not (ii) adequate feedstock should be provided by the current agricul-
been studied extensively. Wright et al. (2008) conducted an eco- tural system; (iii) the final products are compatible with the cur-
nomic feasibility study by combining two techno-economic analy- rent transportation fuels (Anex et al., 2010; Swanson et al., 2010).
ses of fast pyrolysis (Ringer et al., 2006) and biomass gasification Iowa possesses the largest quantity of corn stover, an important
(Tijmensen et al., 2002). It is estimated that a distributed fast type of cellulosic biomass, in the United States. Corn stover is
pyrolysis system with a centralized gasification facility will incur therefore selected as feedstock of this pathway in this study. The
a TCI of 4.1 billion dollar with a gasification plant capacity of 550 ultimate and proximate analyses of corn stover are listed in
million GGE per year and the MSP would be 1.43 $/GGE. Several Table 1 (Wright et al., 2010). The plant capacity is set to be
reasons contribute to the low MSP. First, the gasification plant 2000 t d1 dry biomass for consistency and comparison with liter-
capacity is about ten times of a 2000 t d1 biorefinery which is atures (Anex et al., 2010; Swanson et al., 2010; Wright et al., 2010).
commonly assumed in the techno-economic analyses. This large The fluidized bed gasifier operates in low temperature (870 °C) for
capacity gains economies of scale. Secondly, the feedstock cost gasification and FT synthesis is adopted for transportation fuel
was assumed to be $44 per metric ton at farm gate, which is much production.
lower than the current feedstock cost estimation. It should be also
noted that Wright et al. (2008) utilized exploratory biomass gasifi- 2.2. Process design
cation TEA results in 2002 to estimate bio-oil gasification process.
A more recent biomass gasification TEA claimed a MSP of about A thorough process model was established in Aspen PlusÒ. The
5$/GGE (Swanson et al., 2010) rather than 2.37 $/GGE (Tijmensen model developed in this study is based on several previous models
et al., 2002). In summary, Wright et al. (2008) provided insights developed at Iowa State University (Swanson et al., 2010; Wright
for the integrated pathway and the limitations provide the neces- et al., 2010; Zhang et al., 2013a). A schematic of the generalized
sity of careful evaluation of the production pathway with updated process flow diagram is shown in Fig. 1. Detailed information of
experimental data and more realistic system assumptions. This functions for each area is included in Table 2. The major compo-
serves as one of the major motivations for this study. nents include biomass preprocessing, bio-oil production (fast
In this study, an integrated production pathway combining fast pyrolysis), bio-oil gasification, syngas cleanup, and fuel synthesis.
pyrolysis and bio-oil gasification is investigated. Cellulosic biomass
such as corn stover is firstly converted to bio-oil through fast pyrol- 2.2.1. Biomass preprocessing and fast pyrolysis process
ysis and then bio-oil will go through gasification process to pro- Biomass preprocessing (chopping, drying, and grinding) are
duce the syngas followed by catalytic FT synthesis and conducted before the pyrolysis process. Solids removal and
hydroprocessing to produce transportation fuels. This integrated
pathway offers several advantages. Firstly, bio-oil can be produced
in relatively small-sized fast pyrolysis plants at distributed loca- Table 1
tions and shipped to centralized biorefinery so that high cost of Ultimate and proximate analyses for corn stover feedstock and char (wt.%) (Wright
et al., 2010).
shipping bulky solid biomass over long distance could be avoided.
Secondly, liquids are relatively easy to pump to high pressure than Ultimate analysis (dry basis) Proximate analysis (wet basis)
solids, so high pressure gasification technology can be imple- Element Corn stover Char Element Corn stover Char
mented to improve conversion efficiency. Thirdly, as most of nitro- Carbon 47.28 51.20 Moisture 25.0 0
gen and potassium are left in biochar after the fast pyrolysis, Hydrogen 5.06 2.12 Fixed Content 17.7 51.2
bio-oil has reduced level of ash and other contaminants, which Nitrogen 0.80 0.45 Volatile Matter 52.8 49.8
makes the syngas cleanup easier (López-González et al., 2014; Chlorine 0 0.47 Ash 4.5 0
Sulfur 0.22 0.94
Venderbosch et al., 2002). This study aims to model the production
Oxygen 40.63 11.50
process and evaluate the economic feasibility based on nth plant Ash 6.00 33.30
90 Q. Li et al. / Bioresource Technology 191 (2015) 88–96

Excess Char

Gas Air Separaon
As-received Biomass Combuson


Char CO2 Transportaon Fuels

Non-condensable Gases
Biomass Pretreated Solids Bio-oil Syngas FT
Pyrolysis Hydrocracking
Preprocessing Biomass Removal Gasificaon Cleanup synthesis


Bio-oil Bio-oil
Recovery Storage

Fig. 1. Generalized process flow diagram for bio-oil gasification pathway.

Table 2
Functions for each area. Standard cyclones remove solids consisting mostly of char par-
Area Area name Area descriptions and functions ticles entrained in the vapors exiting the pyrolyzer (90% particle
number removal rate (Wright, 2010)). It is assumed that the solid products
Area 100 Biomass Chopping, drying, and grinding and non-condensable gases are sent to a combustor to provide heat
Preprocessing for the drying and pyrolysis process. The char composition analysis
Area 200 Pyrolysis Fluidized bed pyrolyzer is shown in Table 1 (Wright et al., 2010). Ash and char are removed
Area 300 Solids removal Standard cyclones
Area 400 Bio-oil recovery Electrostatic precipitators and
from the raw bio-oil through the cyclones with 90% particle
condensers removal rate. The electrostatic precipitators (ESP) and condensers
Area 500 Bio-oil storage Serve as a buffer are used to collect liquid phase in bio-oil recovery process.
Area 600 Combustion Use solid products and gases to provide
2.2.2. Bio-oil gasification process
Area 700 Air separation unit Provide oxygen for gasification
Area 800 Bio-oil gasification Produce syngas from bio-oil In the bio-oil gasification system (as shown in Fig. 2(a)), 95%
Area 900 Syngas cleanup Remove CO and nitrogen hydrogen purity oxygen and steam are employed as the gasifying agent.
sulfide The bio-oil is a mixture of all fractions from the fast pyrolysis,
Area 1000 FT synthesis Produce raw liquid fuel so-called ‘‘whole bio-oil’’. The gasifier operates at a pressure of
Area 1100 Hydrocracking Produce transportation fuels
28 bar and a temperature of 870 °C (Swanson et al., 2010). The
mass ratios of oxygen to bio-oil are set to be 0.3 and the mass
ratios of steam to bio-oil are set to be 0.2. After gasification, a sep-
bio-oil recovery are included to condense and collect the bio-oil. In arator is used to remove the slag. The syngas contains some partic-
the biomass pretreatment including chopping, drying and grinding, ulate as well as all the ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and other
biomass with 25% moisture is dried to 7% moisture and ground contaminants which need cleanup. A direct water quench is
from 10–25 mm to 3 mm diameter size prior to feeding into the employed to reduce the syngas temperature to about 40 °C to con-
pyrolyzer. The fluidized bed pyrolyzer operates at 500 °C and dense tar and most of ammonia and ammonium chloride (Zhang
atmospheric pressure. As shown in Table 3, data from previous et al., 2013a). Carbon dioxide and nitrogen hydrogen sulfide are
techno-economic analysis of pyrolysis-based biofuels are removed in acid gas removal system with monoethanolamine.
employed to build RYield module in Aspen PlusÒ (Badger and
Fransham, 2006; Wright et al., 2010). 2.2.3. FT synthesis process
In the catalytic FT synthesis, one mole of CO reacts with two
Table 3
Pyrolysis products distribution (wt.% of corn stover feedstock) (Wright et al., 2010).
moles of H2 to form mainly aliphatic straight-chain hydrocarbons
(Eq. (1)). Typical FT catalysts are based on iron or cobalt. The opti-
Bio-oil composition Gases
mal ratio of H2 =CO is around 2.1 according to the previous study
Water 10.80 Nitrogen 0 (Swanson et al., 2010). When the feed gas H2 =CO ratio is lower
Acetic acid 5.93 Carbon dioxide 5.42 than 2.1, water-gas shift (WGS) reaction (Eq. (2)) is used to
Propionic acid 7.31 Carbon monoxide 6.56
Methoxyphenol 0.61 Methane 0.035
increase the ratio to 2.1. Typical operation conditions for FT syn-
Ethylphenol 3.80 Ethane 0.14 thesis, when aiming for long-chain products, are under tempera-
Formic acid 3.41 Hydrogen 0.59 tures of 200–250 °C and pressures of 25–60 bars (Anderson et al.,
Propyl-benzoate 16.36 Propene 0.15 1984).
Phenol 0.46 Ammonia 0.01
Toluene 2.27 Total 12.91
CO þ 2:1 H2 ) ðCH2 Þ  þH2 O ð1Þ
Furfural 18.98
Benzene 0.77 Solids
Total 70.70 Char/Ash 16.39 CO þ H2 O () CO2 þ H2 ð2Þ
Q. Li et al. / Bioresource Technology 191 (2015) 88–96 91



Syngas Hydrogen

Acid Gas Tropsch



Naphtha, Distillate
to storage

Fig. 2. Process flow diagram for bio-oil gasification process (a) and FT synthesis process (b).

As shown in Fig. 2(b), major operations in this area include zinc of 64 pound per cubic feet, and the catalyst replacement cycle is
oxide/activated carbon gas polishing, syngas booster compression, 3 years (Swanson et al., 2010). Next, the syngas stream is com-
steam methane reforming (SMR), WGS, pressure swing adsorption pressed to 25 bar in syngas booster compression unit.
(PSA), FT synthesis, FT product separation, and unconverted syngas Experimental data indicate that there is a significant amount of
recycle (Swanson et al., 2010). methane and ethane in the syngas stream in the low temperature
Appropriate pretreatment must be taken so that the syngas bio-oil gasification scenario. Thus, a SMR is utilized to reduce those
entering FT synthesis contaminants below 200 ppb sulfur and components. As mentioned, a WGS unit is included to adjust syn-
10 ppm ammonia at a pressure of 25 bar (Spath and Dayton, gas H2 =CO ratio to just above the optimal value for FT synthesis.
2003). First, a zinc oxide and activated carbon gas polishing is used After that, PSA is used to provide hydrogen for the hydroprocessing
to polish sulfur and trace contaminants. The zinc oxide catalyst section. Next, the syngas reacts over a cobalt-based catalyst in a
cost is assumed to be 4.67 dollar per pound with a catalyst density fixed-bed FT reactor at 200 °C. The Anderson–Schulz–Flory alpha
92 Q. Li et al. / Bioresource Technology 191 (2015) 88–96

Table 4 hydroprocessing section. The unconverted syngas is partially recy-

Summary of methodology for capital cost estimation. cled back into the FT reactor while the other portions go back to
Parameter Assumption the acid gas removal system in syngas cleanup section.
(a) Assumptions for capital cost estimation
Total purchased equipment cost 100% 2.3. Economic analysis
Purchased equipment installation 39%
Literature data and Aspen Economic EvaluationÒ software are
Instrumentation and controls 26%
Piping 10%
employed to estimate the facility cost for this pathway. Unit costs
Electrical systems 31% for equipment are scaled from base equipment costs by using Eq.
Buildings (including services) 29% (3). Costnew is the scaled new equipment cost and Cost0 is the base
Yard improvements 12% equipment cost; sizenew is the size of new equipment and size0 is
Service facilities 55%
the size of base equipment; I is the inflation index of calculated
Total installed cost (TIC) 3.02 * TPEC
Indirect cost (IC) 0.89 * TPEC year and I0 is the inflation index of the base year. n is the specific
Engineering 32% scaling factor for a particular type of equipment ranging from 0.6
Construction 34% to 0.8. The scaling factor and some base equipment cost come from
Legal and contractors fees 23%
literature (Swanson et al., 2010; Wright et al., 2010; Zhang et al.,
Total direct and indirect costs (TDIC) TIC + IC
Contingency 20% of TDIC
2013a). All monetary figures have been adjusted to the 2013 US
Fixed capital investment (FCI) TDIC + contingency dollars based on inflation.
Working capital (WC) 15% of FCI    n
Land use 6% of TPEC I sizenew
Costnew ¼  Cost 0  ð3Þ
Total capital investment (with land) FCI + WC + land I0 size0
(b) Assumptions for material and operating parameters
Aspen Economic Evaluation software is employed to estimate
Electricity 7.25 cents/kWh (Wright et al., 2008)
Process water 0.034 $ t1 (Knoef and Ahrenfeldt, equipment size and calculate project capital expenditures. The
2005) methodology developed by Peters et al. is used for calculating
Delivered feedstock cost 83 $ t1 (Wright et al., 2010) installation costs (Peters et al., 1968). A total installation factor of
Fuel gas 1.13 $ GJ1 (Knoef and Ahrenfeldt,
3.02 is used to estimate the installed equipment costs (Zhang
Steam 9.67 $ t1 (Knoef and Ahrenfeldt,
et al., 2013a). A Lang Factor of 5.46 is chosen to estimate the TCI
2005) (Wright et al., 2010; Zhang et al., 2013a,b). Table 4(a) provides a
Solids disposal cost 22.23 $ t1 (López-González et al., summary of methodology for capital cost estimation.
2014) Table 4(b) provides the assumptions and references for the
Waste water disposal cost 1.30 $ t1 (López-González et al.,
material and operating cost estimation. The electricity price are
Operating hours per year 7884 (90%) based on the average 20-year forecast from Energy Information
Balance of plant 11% (López-González et al., 2014) Administration (EIA) Annual Energy Outlook 2014 (EIA, 2014).
(c) Assumptions for DCFROR analysis) (Zhang et al., 2013a) The facility-gate corn stover feedstock price is assumed to be
Working capital (% of FCI) 15% 83 $ t1 (Downing et al., 2011). The solid and waste water disposal
Salvage value 0 costs are based on biomass gasification design (Swanson et al.,
Type of depreciation DDB
2010). The costs for process water, fuel gas, and steam are based
General plant 200
Steam plant 150
on bio-oil gasification to produce hydrogen (Zhang et al., 2013a).
Depreciation period (years) A modified National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) dis-
General plant 7 counted cash flow rate of return (DCFROR) analysis spreadsheet
Steam/electricity system 20 is employed to evaluate the economic feasibility with the IRR
Construction period (years) 2.5
under the prevailing market conditions. Assumptions in DCFROR
% Spent in year-3 8%
% Spent in year-2 60% analysis are listed in Table 4(c) (Zhang et al., 2013a). The process
% Spent in year-1 32% design is assumed to be the nth plant with a life cycle of 20 years
Start-up time (years) 0.5 based on the current state of technology.
Revenues (% of normal) 50%
Variable costs (% of normal) 75%
Fixed cost (% of normal) 100% 3. Results and discussion
Income tax rate 39%
Facility type nth facility 3.1. Process modeling

The raw corn stover is assumed to be with 25% moisture, and

chain growth model described by Song et al. is used to predict the the moisture level is reduced to 7% with pretreatment. The fast
FT product distribution (Song et al., 2004). After the gas is cooled, pyrolysis process has a capacity of 2000 t d1 dry corn stover and
the liquid hydrocarbons and water are separated before the the yield of wet bio-oil (with a moisture content of 15%) is 63%,

Table 5
Comparison of fuel yield and economics results for a variety of pathways (t d1).

Pathway Low temperature Biomass gasification Fast pyrolysis and hydroprocessing Fast pyrolysis and bio-oil gasification
(Swanson et al., 2010) (Brown et al., 2013)
Biomass input 2000 2000 2000
Bio-oil yield – 1260 1260
FT liquids yield 331 – 270
Fuel yield 293 524 239
MSP ($/GGE) 5.4 2.66 5.6
TCI ($million) 560 444 510
Q. Li et al. / Bioresource Technology 191 (2015) 88–96 93

Table 6
Comparison of gasification conditions and syngas composition.

Biomass gasification Bio-oil gasification Bio-oil gasification Assumptions in

(Swanson et al., 2010) (Zhang et al., 2013a) (experiments) this study
Gasification conditions
Temperature 870 °C 1200 °C 850 °C 870 °C
Pressure 28 bar 20 bar 1.01 bar 28 bar
Mass ratios of oxygen to bio-oil/biomass 0.26 0.42 0.37 0.3
Mass ratios of steam to bio-oil/biomass 0.17 0.2 0 0.2
Gas composition (mole basis)
Water (H2O) 19.4% 21.5% 20.2% 20.0%
Carbon monoxide (CO) 24.1% 36.2% 32.5% 32.0%
Hydrogen (H2) 20.0% 32.7% 16.4% 17.0%
Carbon dioxide (CO2) 27.2% 9.6% 20.8% 20.0%
Methane (CH4) 5.5% <0.1% 5.6% 6.0%
Other 3.8% <0.1% 4.5% 5.0%

which means it will yield 1260 t d1 of wet bio-oil. The transporta- for a positive IRR. Larger capacities are in favor due to the econo-
tion fuel yield for gasoline and diesel are 170 t d1 and 69 t d1, mies of scale.
representing 13.5% and 5.5% of the wet bio-oil, respectively. The
comparisons of fuel yield for different pathways are included in
Table 5 (adjusted to the 2013 US dollars). 3.3. Uncertainty analysis
Gasification experiments have been conducted with whole red
oak bio-oil at Iowa State University. The gasification reactor runs The sensitivity analysis is presented in Fig. 5 to demonstrate the
at 850 °C. Pure oxygen was maintained at an equivalence ratio of sensitivity of MSP to changes in the parameters. The parameters
25% for full combustion. The bio-oil gasification yields are esti- under investigation are IRR, fuel yield, feedstock cost, fixed capital
mated based on the experiment with similar feedstock and litera- cost, catalyst cost, balance of plant (BOP), and availability operat-
ture data (Swanson et al., 2010; Zhang et al., 2013a). Table 6 shows ing hours. The analysis finds that MSP is most sensitive to IRR, fuel
the comparison of gasification conditions and syngas composition. yield, feedstock cost, and fixed capital cost. IRR is influential
because it affects the entire cash flow. At this stage, it is projected
that there is room for improvement in the fuel yield, which will
make this pathway more competitive since a 20% increase in fuel
3.2. Economics results yield will lead the MSP from 5.59 $/GGE to 4.66 $/GGE. As a signif-
icant portion of operating costs, feedstock price is a highly sensi-
Estimated total installed equipment cost (TIEC) for 2000 t d1 tive parameter. The fixed capital cost affects the capital
facility is $273 million. As mentioned in Table 4, TCI is the summa- depreciation and average income tax, a ±20% range in fixed capital
tion of total installed equipment cost, total indirect cost ($92 mil- cost results an MSP in a range of 5.02 $/GGE to 6.17 $/GGE.
lion), project contingency ($73 million), working capital cost ($66 The sensitivity analysis considers the influence of one parame-
million), and land use ($6 million), which is $510 million in this ter on the MSP at a time by assuming other parameters hold con-
study. stant, while in reality, all these parameters may change
The free on board (FOB) equipment cost and installed equip- simultaneously. For the uncertainty analysis, Monte-Carlo (MC)
ment cost are breakdown to process area. Fig. 3(a) shows the per- simulations are conducted to understand the effect of all key
centage of equipment cost and installed cost for each model area. parameters interacting simultaneously. Distributions for key
Fast pyrolysis, combustion and fuel synthesis contribute 48% of parameters are determined based on literature and prior knowl-
equipment cost and 42% of installed cost. edge. Simulation data for key parameters are generated from their
Stream mass flows in the Aspen Plus model and current market distributions. These simulated data then serve as the input to ana-
prices of the products are used to calculate the total annual oper- lyze the empirical distribution of MSP and to quantify the uncer-
ating costs. The fixed operating costs include salaries, maintenance tainty of economic feasibility of the bio-oil gasification pathway.
cost, and insurance. The costs of cooling water, steam, waste dis- R software is employed to conduct the MC simulation and analyze
posal etc. are included in other variable operating costs category. the results. The iterations number for the MC simulation is set to
As show in Fig. 3(b), the biomass feedstock cost, about $54.3 mil- be 5000.
lion, is the largest (46%) contributor to annual operating costs. IRR, fuel yield, fixed capital cost, and biomass cost are treated as
This is due to the high cost to collect and transport corn stover. key parameters (changing variables) since these parameters are
As commonly used in literature, an IRR of 10% is assumed in this shown by the sensitivity analysis to have the most significant
analysis as a base line (Chau et al., 2009; Swanson et al., 2010). impact on MSP. Due to data availability limitation, all of these vari-
Based on the estimated capital costs, operating costs and IRR, an ables are assumed to follow triangular distributions with the same
MSP of 5.59 $/GGE is calculated for the bio-oil gasification variation ranges used in the sensitivity analysis as suggested in lit-
pathway. erature (Zhang et al., 2013a,c). In order to analyze the impact of
Fig. 4 summarizes the variation in facility IRRs and MSP at dif- distribution selection in the MC simulation, a second scenario
ferent capacities. If we fixed the IRR to be 10%, the MSP will drop where these key parameters are assumed to follow normal distri-
rapidly from 14.96 $/GGE to 5.59 $/GGE as facility size increases bution with means equal to their base level and variances equal
from 500 to 1900 t d1 and drop at a slower rate beyond to one sixth of the range of their triangular distributions respec-
1900 t d1. When the facility size is 5000 t d1, the MSP is about tively (Thilakaratne et al., 2014).
3.5 $/GGE, which is the average gasoline price for the next 20 years Fig. 6(a) details the probability density function of MSP from
according to EIA’s prediction (EIA, 2014). On the other hand, if we MC simulation. It can be observed that the distributions of key
assume the selling price of biofuel to be $3.5/gal, we can analyze parameters have a significant influence on the distribution of
the relationship between the facility IRR and facility capacity. In MSP. The normal distributions case results in a larger mean (5.46
this case, a minimum facility capacity of 1900 t d1 is necessary $/GGE to 6.23 $/GGE) and the distribution of MSP is shifted to right
94 Q. Li et al. / Bioresource Technology 191 (2015) 88–96


Fig. 3. Equipment cost and installed cost for each area (a) and annual itemized operating costs (b) ($ Million).

Fig. 4. Variation of MSP and facility IRR with facility size.

Q. Li et al. / Bioresource Technology 191 (2015) 88–96 95

Fig. 5. Sensitivity analysis for MSP in 2013 $/GGE.

Fig. 6. Probability density function (a) and empirical cumulative distribution (b) of MSP from MC simulation.

by about one dollar than the triangular distributions case. Both normal distribution case, only 5.94% of runs in the analysis have
cases show that the probability density functions of MSP are MSP less than 5 $/GGE and 58.06% of the runs will have MSP
skewed to right a little, which indicates extremely high MSP has exceeding 6 $/GGE. These results indicate that this pathway is
a very low probability. likely to be economically infeasible for a facility capacity of
As shown in Fig. 6(b), the empirical cumulative distribution of 2000 t d1. Larger capacity for the bio-oil gasification facility is
MSP in triangular distribution case shows that about 31.32% of necessary for this pathway to be economically feasible. Suitable
runs in the analysis have MSP less than $5/gal and 23.62% of the assumptions for distribution of key parameters are essential for
runs will have MSP exceeding 6 $/GGE. On the other hand, in the uncertainty analysis.
96 Q. Li et al. / Bioresource Technology 191 (2015) 88–96

3.4. Comparison to other thermochemical pathways Badger, P.C., Fransham, P., 2006. Use of mobile fast pyrolysis plants to densify
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