Biorefinery Simulation and Techno-Economic Analysis Modules (Bio-STEAM) — an open-source simulation software package in Python — gives scientists, engineers, biotechnology companies, and funding agencies a fast, flexible tool to analyze the economics of producing different biofuels and bioproducts in a matter of seconds.
BioSTEAM allows researchers to quickly compare and prioritize strategies for converting biomass to fuels and products. It also generates data that can be used to evaluate the environmental impact of biorefineries, including greenhouse gas emissions, paving the way for a sustainable bioeconomy.
Techno-economic analysis (TEA) provides critical information on the economic viability, technological hurdles, and venture risk of producing biofuels and bioproducts. Typically, that requires specialized researchers who prepare detailed designs of biorefineries and run simulations — a burdensome process that is time-consuming, expensive, and a barrier to early-stage research. It can take months to do an analysis of a single design for a single idea and after that, the analytical tools are still only accessible to researchers who specialize in tech-no-economic analysis.
Those evaluations typically neglect technological, environmental, and market-driven uncertainties. And many existing simulation tools are proprietary, so comparing models is difficult. Bio-STEAM provides the building blocks to simulate a biorefinery and its flexible framework allows for design, simulation, and TEA that incorporates uncertainties as a key feature.
The researchers used BioSTEAM to model the co-production of biodiesel and ethanol from lipid-cane (also known as oil cane) and the production of second-generation ethanol from corn stover. The analysis factored in 94 parameters for the lipid-cane biorefinery simulation and 228 for corn stover — everything from financial assumptions to the performance of each individual operation such as the efficiency of a separation process or how well the microorganisms convert sugar to ethanol. It also embraced the uncertainty of those factors, providing a range of values.
BioSTEAM was able to evaluate 31,000 different biorefinery designs, across a continuum of feedstock compositions, in less than 50 minutes. The results matched benchmark models and through sensitivity analysis, revealed key bottlenecks for research and development.