Charles Copeland ’19, Geosciences
Certificate(s): Environmental Studies
I aimed to improve the estimates used to determine the potential for the development of a sustainable biofuels industry in the United States. I pursued two main questions. First, how much additional biomass could be harvested sustainably for a second-generation, cellulosic biofuels industry without depleting natural resources or competing with crops for land use? Second, how quickly could such an industry be built? After reviewing the literature, I concluded that some previous studies were overestimating the amount of corn stover — which consists of the plant’s leaves, stalks and cobs — that could be sustainably harvested. I developed my own constraints on the sustainable amount of corn stover that could be harvested for each county. I then used a simple model based on the cost of transport and yield to predict where, and in what order, cellulosic biofuel refineries are likely to be built. Using the development of the cornethanol industry as a model, I examined possible timeframes for the evolution of a cellulosic biofuels industry under different policy options. This experience has encouraged me to pursue a career combining policy, environment and energy science.