Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.)

Degree Granting Department

Chemical Engineering

Major Professor

Babu Joseph, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

John Kuhn, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Sarina Ergas, Ph.D.


Bioenergy, Biofuels, Fischer-Tropsch Synthesis, Sustainability, Waste Management, Waste to Energy


The use of biomass as a potential feedstock for the production of liquid hydrocarbon fuels has been under investigation in the last few decades. This paper discusses a preliminary design and a feasibility study of producing liquid hydrocarbon fuels from biomass through a combined biochemical and thermochemical route. The process involves anaerobic digestion (AD) of the biodegradable portion of the biomass to produce methane rich gas. The methane rich biogas stream is purified by removing contaminants and upgraded to liquid hydrocarbon fuel in a gas to liquid facility (GTL) via thermochemical conversion route. The biogas conversion involves two major steps: tri-reforming step to produce syngas (a mixture of CO and H2), and Fischer-Tropsch Synthesis (FTS) step to convert the syngas to a spectrum of hydrocarbons. Separation and upgrading of the produced hydrocarbon mixture allows production of synthetic transportation fuels. AD is ranked as one of the best waste management options as it allows for: energy recovery, nutrient recovery, and reduction in greenhouse gases emission.

A detailed process modeling of the process was carried out using ASPEN Plus process design software package. Data for the process was based on literature on AD combined with laboratory results on the biogas to liquid conversion process. The composition of the final liquid hydrocarbon from the ASPEN model has been compared to the composition of commercial diesel fuel, and results have shown good agreement. As a result, the most current commercial diesel prices were used to evaluate the potential revenue from selling the product in the open market.

The total capital investment to construct the plant with a capacity of handling 100,000 ton per year of wet biomass is $16.2 million with a potential of producing 2.60 million gallons of diesel. The base case feedstock is corn stover. The annual operating cost to run the plant is estimated to be $8.81 million. An annual revenue from selling the diesel product is estimated to be $14.6 million taking into account a green energy incentive of $3.00/gallon of diesel sold. The net present worth at the end of the plant life is $8.76 million with a discounted cash flow of return of 26.2%. The breakeven cost of diesel is determined to be $4.34/gallon assuming no tipping fees are charged for handling the waste.

Sensitivity analyses results concluded that the profitability of the process is most sensitive to variation in diesel selling price. Based on these results, it can be concluded that the process is profitable only if incentives are provided for renewable fuels due to the current low prices of fossil fuels.