Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Mechanical Engineering

First Advisor

Mark M. Wright


The revised Renewable Fuel Standard requires the annual blending of 16 billion gallons of cellulosic biofuel by 2022 from zero gallons in 2009. The necessary capacity investments have been underwhelming to date, however, and little is known about the likely composition of the future cellulosic biofuel industry as a result. This dissertation develops a framework for identifying and analyzing the industry's likely future composition while also providing a possible explanation for why investment in cellulosic biofuels capacity has been low to date.

The results of this dissertation indicate that few cellulosic biofuel pathways will be economically competitive with petroleum on an unsubsidized basis. Of five cellulosic biofuel pathways considered under 20-year price forecasts with volatility, only two achieve positive mean 20-year net present value (NPV) probabilities. Furthermore, recent exploitation of U.S. shale gas reserves and the subsequent fall in U.S. natural gas prices have negatively impacted the economic competitiveness of all but two of the cellulosic biofuel pathways considered; only two of the five pathways achieve substantially higher 20-year NPVs under a post-shale gas economic scenario relative to a pre-shale gas scenario.

The economic competitiveness of cellulosic biofuel pathways with petroleum is reduced further when considered under price uncertainty in combination with realistic financial assumptions. This dissertation calculates pathway-specific costs of capital for five cellulosic biofuel pathway scenarios. The analysis finds that the large majority of the scenarios incur costs of capital that are substantially higher than those commonly assumed in the literature. Employment of these costs of capital in a comparative TEA greatly reduces the mean 20-year NPVs for each pathway while increasing their 10-year probabilities of default to above 80% for all five scenarios.

Finally, this dissertation quantifies the economic competitiveness of six cellulosic biofuel pathways being commercialized in eight different U.S. states under price uncertainty, utilization of pathway-specific costs of capital, and region-specific economic factors. 10-year probabilities of default in excess of 60% are calculated for all eight location scenarios considered, with default probabilities in excess of 98% calculated for seven of the eight. Negative mean 20-year NPVs are calculated for seven of the eight location scenarios.

Copyright Owner

Tristan Brown



File Format


File Size

127 pages