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With the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA) charged with developing a sustainable supply chain for biojet fuel and co-products, the researchers in the Sustainability Measurement Team will evaluate the environmental, social, and economic viability of the overall supply chain.

With a focus on sustainability, the researchers will use a variety of tools including life cycle assessments, market analysis, and environmental impacts to assess and guide the NARA project as it goes forward.

“The responsibility of the metrics analysis is to ensure that we come up with a bio-based jet fuel industry, where the production throughout the entire supply chain remains sustainable,’’ says Ivan Eastin, professor at University of Washington and director for the Center for International Trade in Forest Products. “The last thing we want to do is to go from a reliance on non-sustainable fossil fuels to developing biofuels that aren’t sustainable.’’

Developing biofuels “isn’t rocket science,’’ says Dr. Eastin. Biofuels are relatively straightforward to produce – but the economics aren’t there yet, he said. The researchers aim to improve production practices and reduce costs by increasing efficiency while ensuring that practices are sustainable.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA):

The LCA looks at the impacts of creating biofuels and co-products from woody biomass “from cradle to grave,’’ says Eastin.

The researchers will develop life cycle assessments comparing petroleum and bio-based fuels along a variety of environmental attributes, including energy use, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and other environmental measures. The assessments will include a variety of biofuel feedstocks and harvesting options, the bio-jet fuel conversion process, and the impact of the integration of jet fuel manufacturing into existing forest product industries and infrastructure.

The researchers will look at a variety of biofuel and co-products production scenarios and aim to determine potential reductions in greenhouse gas emissions or energy use as well as the economic impacts.

The Consortium for Research on Renewable Industrial Materials (CORRIM) will also participate in the project. CORRIM has extensive experience in studying environmental performance of wood-based products and biofuels. They currently own extensive databases on wood harvesting and processing that will be expanded through their collaboration in the NARA project.

Environmental Impact

The researchers will study environmental impacts of the project, gathering detailed information and identifying potential solutions in the following areas:

  • Air quality, including potential impacts on ozone formation in the region, particulate matter, and air toxics.
  • Hydrological impacts of biofuels harvesting, including changes in stream flow, aquatic habitat, and sediments.
  • Soils and erosion rates
  • Changes in animal populations to understand the impact on lake and stream biology.

The researchers also will develop computer models to assess the impacts on watersheds of changes in land use management and conduct analysis to understand and estimate wildlife impacts.

Researchers include faculty in WSU’s Center for Environmental Research, Education and Outreach (CEREO), WSU’s Laboratory for Atmospheric Research (LAR), State of Washington Water Research Center (SWWRC), and Forest Landscape Ecology Lab at Oregon State University.

Feedstock Supply Chain Analysis

Analyzing the supply chain for woody biomass is necessary for developing a sustainable regional system to produce and distribute aviation bio-fuels and chemicals. As part of the project, researchers will analyze a variety of sources for woody biomass feedstocks for biofuels. These include forest residues that come from thinning, forest restoration, or fire hazard reductions; municipal solid waste; mill residues; and timber harvested specifically for bio-based energy products.

The researchers aim to understand the social, economic, and environmental impacts of producing new wood-based energy products. They will study potential feedstocks to address:

  • characteristics and suitability of various feedstocks
  • competition with existing wood users
  • depletion of feedstock sources
  • logistics and costs of delivering feedstocks to facilities
  • employment impacts.

The researchers will work to gain better information on the amount of forest stands in the Northwest by coordinating existing and new data for these regions. They also will conduct research to assess the amount of mill residues and wood from municipal soil waste facilities as well as the amount of wood residues left over after logging operations.

Markets and Distribution – Environmentally Preferred Products (EPP):

Understanding the market needs and consumer preferences is an important way to help a future biofuels industry succeed and gain public acceptance.

The researchers in the multi-institutional Environmentally Preferred Products (EPP) Team (Washington State University, University of Washington, Penn State University, and University of Minnesota) will work to identify the important attitudes, perceptions, and current understanding of biofuel-based products by the public and policymakers. This knowledge can then be used to develop a better understanding of how perceived societal benefits might play into customers’ decisions in accepting and buying a bio-based product.

The EPP group will be working to provide focused information on environmental impacts in a way that is meaningful for industry and government leaders and for consumers. The researchers hope to define environmental values and what that means for people, as well as how those values influence purchasing decisions.