Biomass-To-Energy Study

BY: TANJA SREBOTNJAK, Hixon Center Director

Claremont McKenna College graduate, Lauren d’Souza (’18), was deeply interested in understanding the obstacles and opportunities faced by Native Americans when it comes to tribal economic development, sovereignty, and sustainable energy generation. Under the guidance of Prof. William Ascher (CMC) and Prof. Tanja Srebotnjak she studied the feasibility of a biomass-to-energy for the Cocopah Indian Community, a federally registered sovereign Indian tribe, located in southwestern Arizona.

In her thesis, d’Souza considered feedstock availability, cost and energy content, technology options, nameplate capacity, discount and interest rates, construction, operation and maintenance costs, and alternative investment options. The study, now accepted for publication in the journal Case Studies in the Environment, found that at current electricity prices and based on typical costs for fuel, operation and maintenance over 30 years, none of the tested scenarios is presently cost-effective on a net present value (NPV) basis when compared with an alternative investment yielding annual returns of 3% or higher. The technology most likely to be economically viable and suitable for remote, rural contexts—a combustion stoker—resulted in a levelized costs of energy (LCOE) ranging from $0.056 – $0.147 per kWh. The most favorable scenario is a combustion stoker with an estimated NPV of approximately $4.8 million.

The study highlights the need for policy and financial support for small, rural Native American communities who wish to pursue cleaner and local energy sources.