Virtual Engineering Software Framework for Integrated Biomass Conversion Modeling

Ethan Young, Hariswaran Sitaraman, Andrew Glaws, Andrew Bartling, James Lischeske, Jonathan Stickel

Research output: NRELPresentation


This presentation covers the design and implementation of a software tool to systematically connect computational models of unit operations to simulate an integrated process of low-temperature conversion of biomass to fuel. This virtual engineering (VE) software was designed with the overarching goal of connecting unit models written in various programming languages and requiring different computational resources within a single, flexible framework. The models and features currently considered for the VE library include mechanistic models for pretreatment, enzymatic hydrolysis, and aerobic bioreaction; high-fidelity computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulations for enzymatic hydrolysis and aerobic bioreaction; and the capability to perform techno-economic analyses (TEA) using Aspen Plus, a commercial software package. The CFD models require access to high-performance computing (HPC) resources, so in addition to handling multiple programming languages and interfaces, the VE software must also be capable of interacting with an HPC scheduler to submit, run, and post-process jobs. Using the Python programming language, a new VE software package has been developed that contains functionality to manage the input-output communication between various unit models, schedule simulations to run on NREL's HPC and analyze those results, and interface with existing TEA software workflows. A Jupyter-notebook GUI was also created to solicit user input and provide documentation. In cases where multiple models for a particular unit-operation exist, selection between models is accomplished through a simple checkbox, with the appropriate inputs and outputs being parsed and converted seamlessly in the background. Each operation makes use of a different programming language, but the flow of information from pretreatment to enzymatic hydrolysis to bioreaction is managed with an intuitive, centralized file-communication strategy. In this talk, the programming approach and implementation details of the notebook are presented for multiple possibilities of the conversion process, including a demonstration of the ability to manage HPC resources. Additionally, an example of a sensitivity study of treatment parameters governing the overall conversion outcome is shown which highlights the ease of defining new problems using the VE Notebook workflow and leads into a discussion of ongoing work to enable outer-loop optimization studies.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages19
StatePublished - 2021

Publication series

NamePresented at the 2021 AIChE Annual Meeting, 10 November 2021, Boston, Massachusetts

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/PR-2C00-81423


  • biofuel
  • biomass
  • modeling
  • simulation
  • virtual engineering


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