Date of Award

5-2019

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Geography

Major Professor

Liem T. Tran

Committee Members

Hyun Kim, Micheline van Riemsdijk, Donald G. Hodges

Abstract

Bioenergy crops can provide a reliable and adequate supply of biomass feedstocks to support the bioenergy industry. However, commercial scale production of bioenergy crops has not been established to meet the increasing energy demand for the bioenergy industry. Thus, there is a need to explore the full potential of bioenergy crop production to support energy generation. This dissertation examined the feasibility of bioenergy crop production in the southern United States with a case study from Kentucky. For the feasibility of bioenergy crop production, I (1) analyzed trade-offs among the major components of bioenergy crop production, (2) assessed landowners’ willingness to promote bioenergy crops and, (3) evaluated potential bioenergy policies and prioritized them based on their effectiveness to support the promotion of sustainable bioenergy production. I used multiple approaches including a multi-objective optimization model, a questionnaire survey, and an analytic hierarchy process (AHP) model, to examine the feasibility of bioenergy production. The trade-off analysis highlighted potential opportunities and risks in bioenergy production. Even though there were suitable lands for growing bioenergy crops, the production was not economically beneficial. Further, higher bioenergy production generated concerns for negative impact on the environment. Thus, results from the trade-off analysis showed a need to find the best balance among the trade-offs for better production decisions. The landowner survey indicated that they were relatively more willing to grow bioenergy crops themselves than rent their land to others. Current land management practices and socio-economic and environmental factors affected their land use decisions about bioenergy crop production. Finally, my policy analysis highlighted that policies that incorporate environmental conservation are key to establishing bioenergy crops. In addition, consideration should also be given to efficient technological support while designing specific policy to promote bioenergy production. Overall, results from the whole study can be useful to design effective policies, develop outreach activities, and support technological investments that would promote bioenergy crop production in ways that are economically efficient as well as compatible with social, and environmental factors.

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