Elizabeth B. Connelly, Lisa C. Peterson, Andres F. Clarens, and James H. Lambert
Reliance on petroleum-based fuels gives rise to concerns including national security, long-term availability of crude oil feedstock, and environmental impacts of carbon emissions. To address these concerns, the aviation industry, as well as other transportation industries, has been exploring alternatives to conventional petroleum-derived liquid fuels. The ideal alternative would meet multiple sustainability criteria such as lifecycle carbon reductions, limited fresh water and arable land requirements, and no competition with food production, among others. There are currently numerous feedstocks and technologies that meet these sometimes-competing criteria to various degrees. Stakeholders responsible for policy, investment, and technological decisions on regional, national, and global scales have differing preferences in criteria for biofuel production.
It will take a combination of alternative energy and biofuel technologies to displace fossil fuels. In some cases, the alternative must be a liquid fuel, as with aviation, but in others electricity production from renewable resources is possible. In determining the priority and distribution of initiatives and investments among various sectors, it is important to understand to what extent each addresses the goals and criteria. Further, to identify robust priorities, one must also consider how importance and preference for criteria change under different conditions.
For example, the economic outcome from nascent industries and technologies is the consequence of a variety of uncertain stressors that have variable effects depending upon investment decisions. Business and investment planning benefits from an appreciation of the likelihood and consequences of emergent conditions. This work uses scenario-based preferences to elicit and inform decision makers on the combinations of emergent and future conditions that are most impactful to the priorities for alternative energy industries. The analysis also reveals which initiatives are robust to evolving political, economic, and technological conditions, thus supporting decision-making relevant to establishing a secure supply of biofuel. The method and its results are helpful to the generation of systems engineering requirements recognizing key sources of risk for an emerging industry. This work contributes to reducing the vulnerability of various developing biofuel industries, which in turn will help reduce the global warming impacts of these energy sectors.