An Analytic Advantage: A New Model Developed by University of Illinois Researchers Can Help Increase Biomass Supply Chain Efficiencies
by Erin Voegele (Biorefining Magazine) …The BioFeed model is the product of University of Illinois researchers funded by BP’s Energy Biosciences Institute under a research program titled Engineering Solutions for Biomass Feedstock Production. According to Kuan Chong Ting, a professor of agricultural and biological engineering who leads the research program, the program itself includes five different task areas including harvesting, crop monitoring, transportation, storage, and systems informatics and analysis.
While the first four tasks involve developing better technologies for those particular components of the supply chain system, Ting says that the goal of the fifth task is to try to fit the other four tasks together in a way that makes the entire biomass system—from farm operations to delivery to the biorefinery gate—more efficient.
…“When we started developing the model, we looked at all the important operations a feedstock or energy crop would go through before it was delivered to the refinery,” (Yogendra) Shastri says. Some of the most important of these steps are harvesting, post harvesting packing, such as bailing, grinding or pelleting, handling, storage and transportation. As a result, BioFeed is capable of optimizing more than 300,000 individual variables, including harvest schedules, equipment type, storage sizing, transportation attributes and the logistics involved with moving biomass from one place to another. BioFeed can also take into account regional factors, such as weather patterns, crop yield, farm size and transportation distances.
…The goal is to discover the best design for a particular biomass supply chain system.
… “We’ve devised it in such a way that we can apply it to different crops and different geographical regions,” Shastri says.
…In other words, you can change the data values as you run different scenarios for different crops, regions and production methods.
…“I anticipate that we will find ways to publish it in a way that can be distributed, but working with BP right now there are, of course, some intellectual property concerns,” Rodríguez says. “It’s not something that we’ll be rushing out the door with, but given the commercial interest, I think we are looking into that now.” Shastri says the team is working to develop a Web-based interface that would connect to the model. “The idea is that somebody could go on the Web and access the model through a user interface,” he says. “Hopefully in the future, when the model is commercialized, that will be one of the ways to make it accessible to members of the general public.” READ MORE