Understanding Biomass Value Chains and the Environment-Food-Energy-Water Nexus through Whole-Systems Analysis and Optimisation

Sheila Samsatli

Research output: Chapter or section in a book/report/conference proceedingChapter in a published conference proceeding


Biomass has the potential to provide access to a sustainable supply of resources such as energy, chemicals and materials. Since the production of biomass, i.e. plant matter such as forestry, agricultural crops and residues, requires a large amount of land and water, competes with food production and can affect the ecosystem (e.g. deforestation, leaching of fertilisers and pesticides into water bodies), there is a delicate balance between all of these elements. Together, these are known as the environment-food-energy-water nexus and all of the benefits associated with the use of biomass to meet our requirements for energy and other products must be considered along with the potential impact to the nexus as a whole. Therefore, it is important not only to understand how best to exploit the great potential of biomass but also to understand the detailed interactions among all of the elements in the nexus.

The BEFEW (Biomass and the Energy-Food-Environment-Water Nexus) project funded by the Newton Fund and EPSRC (Grant No. EP/P018165/1) is examining the many different possibilities for producing energy and high-value products from biomass that also maintain the balance in the nexus. Detailed maps of existing land use and soil quality, water availability, quality and tolerance to contamination, and climate projections in terms of temperature and rainfall are used in order to understand the potential for growing biomass. Different processing facilities that convert the biomass to energy or other chemicals are researched and a comprehensive database of such technologies, including a site suitability analysis is developed. Thus, a detailed and rich representation of the influence, on the whole of the nexus, of the types of biomass grown, where they are grown, the types of technologies used (and therefore the products that will be made from biomass) and where they are located can be built. A mixed-integer linear programming (MILP) model is developed in order to determine the combinations of crops grown and technologies used to convert biomass to energy and high-value products (thus forming a biomass value chain) that provide the greatest benefit with the lowest impact on the nexus. Using the model, the efficient and robust value chains that are synergistic with the nexus and have the potential for deployment over a wide range of scenarios with different combinations of key socio-economic and environmental performance indicators and constraints are identified. In this conference, the latest progress in the BEFEW project will be presented, with a focus on the MILP model and case studies.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 2017 AIChE Annual Meeting
Publication statusAcceptance date - 13 Jul 2017
Event2017 American Institute of Chemical Engineers Annual Meeting - Minneapolis Convention Center, Minneapolis, USA United States
Duration: 29 Oct 20173 Nov 2017


Conference2017 American Institute of Chemical Engineers Annual Meeting
Country/TerritoryUSA United States


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