• Min Chen Pennsylvania State University
  • Paul M. Smith Pennsylvania State University


Integrated cellulosic biorefinery, cellulosic biofuels, energy security, food vs. fuel, Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), mixed methods research


Second generation (cellulosic) biofuels provide an attractive solution to reduce the dependence on fossil fuels and to address concerns about competition with food crops and land use change confronting the U.S. first generation biofuels. However, the production of cellulosic biofuels has not yet become widely commercialized. The integrated production of cellulosic biofuels and biochemicals; that is, the integrated cellulosic biorefinery (ICBR), offers an opportunity to effectively utilize feedstock fractions, diversify value stream outputs, improve financial performance, and mitigate risks. A dearth of literature exists addressing potential barriers to the scale-up of this industry. Thus, this study deployed a mixed methods approach with an initial qualitative phase for construct development followed by a quantitative phase for construct confirmation and validity. In phase I, a qualitative e-Survey with eighteen academic and industrial experts collated a list of eight barriers to the scale up of the ICBR. In phase II, 228 experts (34% response rate) responded to the quantitative surveys. RATING results, validated by RANKING results, showed that competition vs. petro-chemicals, high production costs, and policy uncertainty represented the top three barriers to the U.S. ICBRs scale-up. Also, our eighteen Phase I experts indicated that consistent government funding & incentives and, to a lesser extent, new technology development and education of end-use consumer will be required for solving these barriers.  Overall, results highlight the mixed methods exploratory research approach and contribute to extant debates on the future commercial development of the U.S. ICBR.

Author Biographies

Min Chen, Pennsylvania State University

Ph.D. of BioRenewables System at Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering

Paul M. Smith, Pennsylvania State University

Professor of BioProducts Marketing


Andiappan, V., Ko, A. S., Lau, V. W., Ng, L. Y., Ng, R. T., Chemmangattuvalappil, N. G., & Ng, D. K. (2015). Synthesis of sustainable integrated biorefinery via reaction pathway synthesis: economic, incremental enviromental burden and energy assessment with multiobjective optimization. AIChE Journal, 61(1), 132-146.

Armstrong, J. S., & Overton, T. S. (1977). Estimating nonresponse bias in mail surveys. Journal of Marketing Research, 396-402.

Balan, V., Chiaramonti, D., & Kumar, S. (2013). Review of US and EU initiatives toward development, demonstration, and commercialization of lignocellulosic biofuels. Biofuels, Bioproducts and Biorefining, 7(6), 732-759. doi: 10.1002/bbb.1436

Bardhan, S. K., Gupta, S., Gorman, M., & Haider, M. A. (2015). Biorenewable chemicals: Feedstocks, technologies and the conflict with food production. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 51, 506-520.

Boyatzis, R. E. (1998). Transforming qualitative information: Thematic analysis and code development: Sage, Thousand Oaks.

Bozell, J. J. (2008). Feedstocks for the future–biorefinery production of chemicals from renewable carbon. CLEAN–Soil, Air, Water, 36(8), 641-647.

Bozell, J. J., & Petersen, G. R. (2010). Technology development for the production of biobased products from biorefinery carbohydrates-the US Department of Energy's "Top 10" revisited. [10.1039/B922014C].

Green Chemistry, 12(4), 539-554. doi: 10.1039/b922014c

Brown, T. R., & Brown, R. C. (2013). A review of cellulosic biofuel commercial-scale projects in the United States. Biofuels, Bioproducts and Biorefining, 7(3), 235-245. doi: 10.1002/bbb.1387

Burns, E. (2010). Developing email interview practices in qualitative research. Sociological research online, 15(4), 8.

Carus, M., Carrez, D., Kaeb, H., Ravenstijin, J., & Venus, J. (2011). Level playing field for bio-based chemistry and materials. Retrieved 2011-07-01.Germany.

Carus, M., & Dammer, L. (2013). Food or non-food: which agricultural feedstocks are best for industrial uses? (Nova paper #2 on bio-based economy 2013-07). nova-Institut GmbH.

Chemnick, J. (2016, September 6). U.S. and China formally commit to Paris Climate Accord. Retrieved from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/u-s-and-china-formally-commit-to-paris-climate-accord/

Chen, M., & Smith, P. M. (2017). The U.S. cellulosic biofuels industry: Expert views on commercialization drivers and barriers. Biomass and Bioenergy, 102, 52-61. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biombioe.2017.05.002

Chen, M., Smith, P. M., & Wolcott, M. P. (2016). U.S. biofuels industry: A critical review of opportunities and challenges. BioProducts Business, 1(4), 42-59.

Cherubini, F. (2010). The biorefinery concept: Using biomass instead of oil for producing energy and chemicals. Energy Conversion and Management, 51(7), 1412-1421. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.enconman.2010.01.015

Cherubini, F., & Strømman, A. H. (2011). Chemicals from lignocellulosic biomass: opportunities, perspectives, and potential of biorefinery systems. Biofuels, Bioproducts and Biorefining, 5(5), 548-561.

Creswell, J. W., & Clark, V. L. P. (2011). Designing and conducting mixed methods research (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Dang, Q., Hu, W., Rover, M., Brown, R. C., & Wright, M. M. (2016). Economics of biofuels and bioproducts from an integrated pyrolysis biorefinery. Biofuels, Bioproducts and Biorefining.

de Guzman, D. (2016, September 9). New BIO report: Renewable chemical commercialization. Retrieved from http://greenchemicalsblog.com/2016/09/09/new-bio-report-renewable-chemical-commercialization/

de Jong, E., Higson, A., Walsh, P., & Wellisch, M. (2012). Product developments in the bio-based chemicals arena. Biofuels, Bioproducts and Biorefining, 6(6), 606-624. doi: 10.1002/bbb.1360

Dillman, D. A., Smith, J. D., & Christian, L. M. (2014). Internet, Phone, Mail, and Mixed-Mode Surveys: The Tailored Design Method: John Wiley & Sons.

Environmental Protection Agency. (2015). EPA proposes renewable fuel standards for 2014, 2015, and 2016, and the biomass-based diesel volume for 2017. (77507). Washington D.C.

Environmental Protection Agency. (2017, July 12). Proposed volume standards for 2018, and the biomass-based diesel volume for 2019. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/renewable-fuel-standard-program/proposed-volume-standards-2018-and-biomass-based-diesel-volume-2019#rule-summary

European Commission. (2016, August 17). Paris Agreement. Retrieved from http://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/international/negotiations/paris/index_en.htm

Fernando, S., Adhikari, S., Chandrapal, C., & Murali, N. (2006). Biorefineries: Current status, challenges, and future direction. Energy & Fuels, 20(4), 1727-1737. doi: 10.1021/ef060097w

FitzPatrick, M., Champagne, P., Cunningham, M. F., & Whitney, R. A. (2010). A biorefinery processing perspective: Treatment of lignocellulosic materials for the production of value-added products. Bioresource Technology, 101(23), 8915-8922.

Gegg, P., Budd, L., & Ison, S. (2014). The market development of aviation biofuel: Drivers and constraints. Journal of Air Transport Management, 39, 34-40.

Golden, J. S., Handfield, R. B., Daystar, J., & McConnell, T. E. (2015). An economic impact analysis of the US biobased products industry: a report to the Congress of the United States of America. Industrial Biotechnology, 11(4), 201-209.

James, N. (2007). The Use of Email Interviewing as a Qualitative Method of Inquiry in Educational Research. British Educational Research Journal, 33(6), 963-976. doi: 10.2307/30032802

Jensen, J., Jensen, R., Brandvold, T., Ellis, D., Kozak, C., Szeezil, D., . . . Shonnard, D. (2016). Pilot-Scale Biorefinery: Sustainable Transport Fuels from Biomass and Algal Residues via Integrated Pyrolysis, Catalytic Hydroconversion and Co-processing with Vacuum Gas Oil.

Jick, T. D. (1979). Mixing qualitative and quantitative methods: Triangulation in action. Administrative science quarterly, 24(4), 602-611.

Lane, J. (2017, July 6). The renewable fuel numbers: 8 takeaways from EPA's 2017 draft, from the industry in their own voices. Retrieved from http://www.biofuelsdigest.com/bdigest/2017/07/06/the-renewable-fuel-numbers-8-takeaways-from-epa2-2017-draft-from-the-industry-in-their-own-voices/

Maity, S. K. (2015). Opportunities, recent trends and challenges of integrated biorefinery: Part I. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 43, 1427-1445.

Miller, L. E., & Smith, K. L. (1983). Handling nonresponse issues. Journal of Extension, 21(5), 45-50.

Mohr, A., & Raman, S. (2013). Lessons from first generation biofuels and implications for the sustainability appraisal of second generation biofuels. Energy Policy, 63, 114-122.

Naik, S. N., Goud, V. V., Rout, P. K., & Dalai, A. K. (2010). Production of first and second generation biofuels: A comprehensive review. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 14(2), 578-597.

Nexant. (2014). Final report: Renewable chemicals & materials opportunity assessment. White Plains, NY.

Ng, R. T., Hassim, M. H., & Ng, D. K. (2013). Process synthesis and optimization of a sustainable integrated biorefinery via fuzzy optimization. AIChE Journal, 59(11), 4212-4227.

NIFA. (2015, December 15). Sustainable advanced biofuels across the United States. Retrieved from https://nifa.usda.gov/resource/sustainable-advanced-biofuels-across-united-states

Richard, T. L. (2010). Challenges in scaling up biofuels infrastructure. Science(Washington), 329(5993), 793-796.

Sandelowski, M. (2000). Combining qualitative and quantitative sampling, data collection, and analysis techniques in mixed‐method studies. Research in nursing & health, 23(3), 246-255.

The White House. (2015, March 31). Fact sheet: U.S. reports its 2025 emissions target to the UNFCCC. Retrieved from https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/03/31/fact-sheet-us-reports-its-2025-emissions-target-unfccc

TRC. (2009, December 7). Non-response bias in survey sampling. Retrieved from https://www.greenbook.org/marketing-research/non-response-bias

Trochim, W. M. (2000, October 20, 2006). The Research Methods Knowledge Base. 2nd Edition. Retrieved from http://www.socialresearchmethods.net/kb/

Welch, W. W., & Barlau, A. N. (2013). Addressing survey nonresponse issues: Implications for ATE principal investigators, evaluators, and researchers. University of Colorado Boulder. Retrieved from http://www.colorado.edu/ibs/decaproject/pubs/Survey%20nonresponse%20issues%20Implications%20for%20ATE%20PIs%20researchers%20%20evaluators.pdf






Empirical Manuscripts