WBS Bioproduct Transition System Dynamics

Research output: NRELPresentation


Bioproducts are chemicals derived from a biomass feedstock; they can be produced on their own or as co-products of a biorefinery that also produces biofuels. Bioproducts have historically been difficult to scale up and bring to market, despite a broad understanding developed within BETO of the various conversion processes that can be used to produce bioproducts. Expanding the bioproducts industry by bringing more bioproducts to market would have a variety of positive impacts. Growth in the bioproducts industry would support the biofuels industry by enabling biorefinery co-products that yield additional revenue streams, allowing biofuel selling prices to be reduced and expanding the biofuels market. A larger bioproducts industry also has the potential to reduce carbon and other emissions associated with the U.S. chemical sector and contribute to increased price stability in some areas of the chemical market by shifting portions of the chemical sector away from reliance on fossil feedstocks. The key barrier to realizing these positive impacts is a lack of knowledge around the factors that prevent or enable bioproducts to reach the commercial market. To date, there has been essentially no research done on how successful bioproducts (commercially produced bioproducts that have captured market share) become successful, why failed bioproducts fail, and what the similarities and differences are between successful and failed bioproducts. The current project addresses this knowledge gap with a decision support tool that can be used by investors, technology developers and government agencies to bring more bioproducts to market, thereby simultaneously growing the bioproducts and biofuels industries. Development of the decision support tool was based on research on the technology development process and success rates in analogous industries, data gathered during previous BETO-funded projects, and a series of interviews with subject-matter experts within BETO, the bioproducts industry, and the investment community. This information formed a knowledge base around how bioproducts are developed from applied research to commercial scale was assembled, which was used to build the Bioproduct Transition Dynamics (BTD) model, a system dynamics (SD) model that tracks bioproduct development projects from applied research through the 'valley of death' of piloting and demoing to commercial scale production. The end-of-project goal is to release the BTD, along with supporting documentation, as a transparent open-source model that will inform decisions around bioproduct development and investments and enable more bioproducts to reach the market. The BTD takes as inputs techno-economic data on specific bioproducts, behavioral parameters for developers and investors, expectations around government support, and exogenous market factors. Model outputs include bioproduct technological progress over time, a cash flow statement for the development project, and market share estimates. Following initial model development, a sensitivity analysis was performed on a subset of model inputs to determine, first, if the BTD could be used to answer analysis questions of interest to BETO, and second, which of the inputs considered were most influential on bioproduct success. Results indicate that the BTD can be used to identify scenarios that enable bioproduct development, and that 'soft' or semi-quantitative factors play a large role in determining if a bioproduct will reach the market. A workshop was also held for subject-matter experts and prospective BTD users in July 2018. The workshop covered BTD model logic, input data and assumptions as well as the sensitivity analysis results and a discussion of potential use cases. Workshop feedback was used to identify additional model development tasks and was incorporated into a draft technical report completed in September 2018. BTD model development, validation and application will continue through 2019.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages26
StatePublished - 2019

Publication series

NamePresented at the DOE Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) 2019 Project Peer Review, 3-8 March 2019, Denver, Colorado

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/PR-6A20-73212


  • bioproducts
  • investment
  • technology development
  • valley of death


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