Monday, April 30, 2007

Rapid analysis of switchgrass feedstocks

Bonnie R. Hames, Thomas W. Johnson, Amr S. Ragab, Brian A. Jerome, Patricia Davidow, and Steven C. Bobzin. Ceres, Inc., 1535 Rancho Conejo Blvd., Thousand Oaks, CA 91320

The ability to obtain an accurate chemical composition of switchgrass feedstocks using rapid and inexpensive methods is a key element in the development of dedicated bioenergy crops with enhanced characteristics for biofuels production such as high ethanol yields and low cost of conversion.  The development and demonstrated use of rapid analysis methods for chemical characterization of switchgrass feedstocks will be presented. These new techniques combine Near InfraRed (NIR) spectroscopy and Projection to Latent Structures (PLS) multivariate analysis in methods inexpensive enough to allow the compositional analysis of hundreds of samples in one day with precision and accuracy that closely matches wet chemical methods. The ability to accurately sample a bulk feedstock and to analyze hundreds of samples provides a new tool that is being used to assess the compositional variability of switchgrass as a function of variety, geographical location, agronomics, harvesting method and storage. Studies of this type require thousands of samples and would be too costly to pursue without the savings in time and cost provided by NIR/PLS rapid analysis methods. Furthermore, these analytical methods report data in a form that can be integrated directly into engineering, economic, and life-cycle models for a clearer evaluation of enhanced value across a wide variety of biomass conversion processes.