Comment Sustainability

Argonne National Lab and Gevo collaborating on biofuels lifecycle assessment

By Mary Page Bailey |

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory (Argonne, Ill.) recently partnered with Gevo, Inc. (Englewood, Colo.) to perform a critical lifecycle analysis of Gevo’s next-generation technology.

Using data provided by Gevo, Argonne’s Greenhouse gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy use in Technologies (GREET) Model is expected to yield results regarding carbon footprints of these fuels within a few months. The effort is funded by the DOE’s Bioenergy Technologies Office, which is part of the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE).

“I am thrilled by this partnership and by the DOE’s investment in this project,” said Michael Wang, an Argonne Distinguished Fellow, Senior Scientist, and the Director of the Systems Assessment Center of the Energy Systems division at the laboratory. “This is the type of real-world application GREET was made for.”

GREET’s pioneering lifecycle analysis considers a host of different fuel production pathways. Results include energy use, emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollutants, and water consumption related to the production processes. The analysis also includes results across the whole of the fuel pathway system, from capturing carbon via photosynthesis to the final burning of the fuel.

Uisung Lee, an energy systems analyst in the Systems Assessment Center of the Energy Systems Division at Argonne, said that “Gevo’s commitment to reach net-zero carbon emissions with advanced renewable hydrocarbon fuels, including SAF and renewable premium gasoline made from field corn—not only in relation to the final product but in every stage of the production along the entire supply chain—will show how deep decarbonization of biofuels can be achieved holistically.”

“Biofuels are low carbon already,” Lee said. “But Gevo wants it to be net-zero carbon. That’s an ambitious goal and one that would be a game-changer in the biofuel industry.”

Argonne will examine emissions at every stage of the supply chain: This “field to aircraft wake” analysis will include each possible step from production to combustion. “While it might be impossible to reach zero carbon emissions at every stage, sustainable farming practices and carbon capture from biofuel plants and re-use might help the company reach its goal when measured across the whole biofuel supply chain system,” Wang said. GREET is unique; it is based on well-developed science and it allows for adaptation, and, in this way, can accommodate changes and incorporate new ideas, including those arising in agriculture and forestry, which are so important to innovation.

“We believe in radical transparency when it comes to sustainability. It’s incredibly important to have good data, good models, and use them for decision making, especially when making choices about technologies across the business system. When we find a process where we can reduce our carbon intensity, we have to analyze it, and if it moves us further down the path to our goals, we try to implement it,” says Dr. Patrick Gruber, Chief Executive Officer of Gevo, Inc. “The tools that the GREET model provides are key to our business model. We have used the GREET model as a guidepost for our process because those benefits are realized in the resulting analysis. It’s why our plants are expected to operate on renewable energy, including wind turbines, and why we chose to integrate renewable biogas into our production system. I expect that, as we work through the analysis with Argonne’s team, we will come up with additional great ideas to get our carbon footprint down even further.”

GREET is constantly being improved: The GREET software provides users with a ready-use life cycle analysis tool to perform simulations of alternative transportation fuels and vehicle technologies in just a few minutes. At present, there are more than 48,000 registered GREET users worldwide.

Wang said that Argonne plans on releasing its findings from this collaboration soon.

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