TEA Modeling to Quantify Economic Implications for Biorefinery Processing of Isolated Anatomical Fractions of Corn Stover

Ryan Davis, Ian McNamara, Andrew Bartling

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


The Feedstock-Conversion Interface Consortium (FCIC; https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2020/01/f70/beto-fcic-overview-web.pdf), a collaboration of nine national laboratory partners, seeks to understand impacts of feedstock attributes on biorefinery performance. It is hypothesized that different individual anatomical fractions of corn stover vary in composition and recalcitrance, such that processing each fraction on its own through dedicated campaigns may enable better biorefinery economics overall relative to processing the whole stover material. This presentation focuses on techno-economic analysis (TEA) modeling to quantify the yield and cost ramifications for processing isolated anatomical fractions of corn stover through a low-temperature conversion biorefinery, reflecting a biochemical processing pathway consisting of biomass deconstruction through pretreatment and enzymatic hydrolysis, sugar fermentation and upgrading to hydrocarbon fuels, and lignin upgrading to value-added coproducts. Commercial-scale process simulation and economic evaluation leveraged experimental and analytical data from FCIC researchers for conversion of whole corn stover plus three individual anatomical fractions (cobs, husks, and stalks) across key steps of the conversion process. Our assessment found encouraging potential for biorefinery economic gains that may be achieved through this approach. TEA results indicated fuel yields varying from 29-44 gallons gasoline equivalent (GGE)/dry ton for the individual anatomical fractions compared to whole stover at 34 GGE/ton, equating to minimum fuel selling prices (MFSPs) between $6.37-$10.18/GGE for the fractions versus $8.76/GGE for whole stover (when lignin is burned), or $9.15-$15.19/GGE for the fractions versus $13.11/GGE for whole stover (when lignin is upgraded to coproducts, based on current experimental performance levels). Cobs and husks demonstrated the ability to achieve the highest fuel yields and lowest MFSPs, outperforming whole stover, while stalks led to the opposite result, as a composite reflection of compositional differences and process convertibility. Notably, even when taking the weighted average of the results reflecting each anatomical fraction weighted by its corresponding makeup of corn stover, this feasibility TEA screening supports feedstock cost allowances on the order of roughly $22-$29/ton as may reflect accommodating additional biomass fractionation equipment during feedstock pre-processing upstream of the conversion biorefinery gate to separate corn stover into such constituent fractions. Or viewed differently, the weighted average MFSP for the fractions was found to be $0.31-$0.32/GGE lower than the MFSP for the whole stover basis across either lignin scenario, when maintaining a fixed biomass feedstock cost. These findings highlight favorable implications for biorefinery economics as may be achieved by moving to a staged campaign approach for processing different corn stover fractions sequentially. Further opportunities exist for future work to fill in data gaps for remaining anatomical constituents (e.g. leaves) that were not included in the initial experimental studies, though are expected to maintain similar trends.

Original languageAmerican English
StatePublished - 2021
Event2021 AIChE Annual Meeting - Boston, Virtual, United States
Duration: 15 Nov 202119 Nov 2021


Conference2021 AIChE Annual Meeting
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityBoston, Virtual

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 American Institute of Chemical Engineers. All rights reserved.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/CP-5100-84056


  • biochemical processing pathway
  • biomass deconstruction
  • corn stover
  • cost ramifications
  • enzymatic hydrolysis
  • hydrocarbon fuels
  • isolated anatomical fractions
  • lignin
  • low-temperature conversion biorefinery
  • pretreatment
  • sugar fermentation
  • techno-economic analysis
  • yield


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