Date of Award

December 2012

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science



First Advisor

John Reisel

Committee Members

Ben Church, Ying Li


Energy Model, Ethanol, Solar Thermal, Wind Turbine


Nearly every aspect of human existence relies on energy in some way. Most of this energy is currently derived from fossil fuel resources. Increasing energy demands coupled with environmental and national security concerns have facilitated the move towards renewable energy sources. Biofuels like corn ethanol are one of the ways the U.S. has significantly reduced petroleum consumption. However, the large energy requirement of corn ethanol limits the net benefit of the fuel. Using renewable energy sources to produce ethanol can greatly improve its economic and environmental benefits. The main purpose of this study was to model the useful energy received from a solar thermal array and a wind turbine at various locations to determine the feasibility of applying these technologies at ethanol plants around the country. The model calculates thermal energy received from a solar collector array and electricity generated by a wind turbine utilizing various input data to characterize the equipment. Project cost and energy rate inputs are used to evaluate the profitability of the solar array or wind turbine. The current state of the wind and solar markets were examined to give an accurate representation of the economics of each industry.

Eighteen ethanol plant locations were evaluated for the viability of a solar thermal array and/or wind turbine. All ethanol plant locations have long payback periods for solar thermal arrays, but high natural gas prices significantly reduce this timeframe. Government incentives will be necessary for the economic feasibility of solar thermal arrays. Wind turbines can be very profitable for ethanol plants in the Midwest due to large wind resources. The profitability of wind power is sensitive to regional energy prices. However, government incentives for wind power do not significantly change the economic feasibility of a wind turbine. This model can be used by current or future ethanol facilities to investigate or begin the planning process for a solar thermal array or wind turbine. The model is meant to aide in the planning stages of a renewable energy project, and advanced investigation will be needed to move forward with that project.

Solar_Wind_Energy_Model.xlsx (258 kB)
Excel Spreadsheet