Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Agricultural Economics

Major Professor

James A. Larson

Committee Members

Burton C. English, Christopher D. Clark, Dan L. Mclemore, Tun-Hsiang Yu


Biofuels have been widely recognized as a potential renewable energy source, and the United States’ government has been interested in producing ethanol from lignocellulosic biomass such as switchgrass. To evaluate whether lignocellulosic biomass based biofuels production is economically feasible, this paper estimated the capital investment outlays, operation costs, and net present value for investment in alternative switchgrass feedstock supply chain configurations in East Tennessee a 25 million gallon per year ethanol biorefinery. Two scenarios are analyzed in the study. The conventional hay harvest scenario includes the production, harvest, storage and transportation of biomass feedstocks from the fields to the biorefinery. The preprocessing scenario added preprocessing facilities into the biomass supply chain. According to various harvest, storage, preprocessing, and harvest equipment options, analysis and comparisons were made among different systems. The capital budgeting model developed in this study generated the optimal feedstock supply chain configurations to determine the largest net present value of cash flow from investment. Results of this study shown that with the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) incentives, a round bale system using feedstock stored without tarp on pallets using custom hired equipment had the largest positive net present value. By comparison, if all the harvest equipment is purchased rather than custom hired, the stretch wrap baler preprocessing systems, using switchgrass harvested by a chopper with rotary cutter-header, was found to have a cost advantage over conventional hay harvest logistic systems (large round bale and large square bale systems) and pellet preprocessing systems. Assuming most likely values for switchgrass price and production costs, none of the feed stock supply chain configurations evaluated in this study produced a positive net present value when BCAP subsidies were assumed to not be available. However, without the BCAP incentives and based on combination of optimistic assumption, the round bale system using feedstock stored without tarp on pallets using custom hired equipment still has the largest positive net present value. Without the BCAP incentives, no feedstock supply chain configuration using purchased rather than custom hired equipment generated a positive net present value.

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