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IEA Energy Technology Essentials – Biofuel Production Jan. 2007
Ethanol production from ligno-cellulosic feedstock includes biomass pre-treatment to release cellulose andhemicellulose, hydrolysis to release fermentable 5- and6-carbon sugars, sugar fermentation, separation of solidresidues and non-hydrolysed cellulose, and distillation tofuel grade.. To provide better conversion, new chemicaland enzymatic processes (pre-treatment, hydrolysis,fermentation) are being examined. Solid residues and co-products from the process such as lignin and othercomponents, particularly from forest materials, mayinhibit hydrolysis. They can be extracted and used as afuel in the production process, thus reducing cost andemissions.
– Biodiesel production is basedon trans-esterification of vegetable oils and fats throughthe addition of methanol (or other alcohols) and acatalyst, giving glycerol as a co-product. Feedstock includes rapeseeds, sunflower seeds, soy seeds and palmoil seeds from which the oil is extracted chemically ormechanically.
include thereplacement of methanol of fossil origin, by bioethanolto produce fatty acid ethyl ester instead of fatty acidmethyl ether (the latter being the traditional biodiesel). Inorder to expand the relatively small resource base of biodiesel, new processes have been developed to userecycled cooking oils and animal fats though these arelimited in volume.
Hydrogenation of oils and fats
is anew process that is entering the market. It can produce abiodiesel that can be blended with fossil diesel up to50% without any engine modifications.
via biomass gasification andcatalytic conversion to liquid using Fischer-Tropschprocess (biomass conversion to liquids BTL) offers avariety of potential biofuel production processes thatmay be suited to current and future engine technologies.The largest biodiesel producer is Germany, whichaccounts for 50% of global production. Biodiesel iscurrently most often used in 5%-20% blends (B5, B20)with conventional diesel, or even in pure B100 form.
Fossil energyinputs and emissions levels from biofuel production aresensitive to process and feedstock, to energy embeddedin fertilizers, and to local conditions.
Production of ethanol from sugar cane
(Brazil) is energy-efficientsince the crop produces high yields per hectare and thesugar is relatively easy to extract. If bagasse is used toprovide the heat and power for the process, and ethanoland biodiesel are used for crop production and transport,the fossil energy input needed for each ethanol energyunit can be very low compared with 60%-80% forethanol from grains. As a consequence, ethanol well-to-wheels CO
emissions can be as low as 0.2-0.3kgCO
/litre ethanol compared with 2.8 kg CO
/litre forconventional gasoline (90% reduction). Ethanol fromsugar beet requires more energy input and provides 50%-60% emission reduction compared with gasoline.
Ethanol production from cereals and corn (maize)
can be even more energy-intensive and debate exists onthe net energy gain. Estimates, which are very sensitiveto the process used, suggest that ethanol from maize maydisplace petroleum use by up to 95%, but total fossilenergy input currently amounts to some 60%-80% of theenergy contained in the final fuel (20% diesel fuel, therest being coal and natural gas) and hence the CO
emissions reduction may be as low as 15%-25% vs.gasoline.
Ethanol from ligno-cellulosic feedstock
–At present, the total energy input needed for theproduction process may be even higher as compared tobioethanol from corn, but in some cases most of suchenergy can be provided by the biomass feedstock itself.Net CO
emissions reduction from ligno-cellulosicethanol can therefore be close to 70% vs. gasoline, andcould approach 100% if electricity co-generationdisplaced gas or coal-fired electricity. Current R&D aimsto exploit the large potential from improving efficiencyin enzymatic hydrolysis.
Energy input and overallemissions for
production also depend onfeedstock and process. Typical values are fossil fuelinputs of 30% and CO
emission reductions of 40%-60%vs. diesel. Using recycled oils and animal fats reducesthe CO
Costs of biofuels are highly dependent onfeedstock, process, land and labour costs, credits for by-products, agricultural subsidies, food (sugar) and oilmarket. Ethanol energy content by volume is two-thirdsthat of gasoline, so costs refer to litre of gasolineequivalent (lge).
Sugar cane ethanol
in Brazil costs$0.30/lge free-on-board (FOB). This cost is competitivewith that of gasoline at oil prices of $40-$50/bbl ($0.3-$0.4/lge). In other regions, costs can be more than $0.40-$0.50/lge, although potential exists for cost reduction.
Ethanol from maize
and wheat cost
around $0.6-$0.8/lge (excl. subsidies), potentiallyreducible to $0.4-$0.6/lge.
currently costs around $1.0/lge at the pilot scale,assuming a basic feedstock price of $3.6/GJ fordelivered straw (whereas cereals for ethanol productionmay cost $10-$20/GJ). The cost is projected to halve inthe next decade with process improvement, scaling up of plants, low-cost waste feedstock and co-production of other by-products (bio-refineries).
fromanimal fat is currently the cheapest option ($0.4-$0.5/lde) while traditional trans-esterification of vegetable oil is at present around $0.6-$0.8/lde. Costreductions of $0.1-$0.3/lde are expected from economiesof scale for new processes. The cost of BTL diesel fromligno-cellulose is more than $0.9/lde (feedstock $3.6/GJ), with a potential reduction to $0.7- $0.8/lde.
is a fuel witha high octane number and a low tendency to createknocking in spark ignition engines. Oxygen in itsmolecule permits low-temperature combustion withreduction of CO and NOx emissions. Low-percentageethanol-gasoline blends (5%-10%) can be used inconventional spark-ignition engines with almost notechnical change. New
of which thereare over 6 million running mainly in Brazil, UnitedStates and Sweden, can run on up to 85% ethanol blends