How does technology pathway choice influence economic viability and environmental impacts of lignocellulosic biorefineries?

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Rajendran, Karthik
Murthy, Ganti S.
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Background: The need for liquid fuels in the transportation sector is increasing, and it is essential to develop industrially sustainable processes that simultaneously address the tri-fold sustainability metrics of technological feasibility, economic viability, and environmental impacts. Biorefineries based on lignocellulosic feedstocks could yield high-value products such as ethyl acetate, dodecane, ethylene, and hexane. This work focuses on assessing biochemical and biomass to electricity platforms for conversion of Banagrass and Energycane into valuable fuels and chemicals using the tri-fold sustainability metrics. Results: The production cost of various products produced from Banagrass was $1.19/kg ethanol, $1.00/kg ethyl acetate, $3.01/kg dodecane (jet fuel equivalent), $2.34/kg ethylene and $0.32/kW-h electricity. The production cost of different products using Energycane as a feedstock was $1.31/kg ethanol, $1.11/kg ethyl acetate, $3.35/kg dodecane, and $2.62/kg ethylene. The sensitivity analysis revealed that the price of the main product, feedstock cost and cost of ethanol affected the profitability the overall process. Banagrass yielded 11% higher ethanol compared to Energycane, which could be attributed to the differences in the composition of these lignocellulosic biomass sources. Acidification potential was highest when ethylene was produced at the rate of 2.56 × 10−2 and 1.71 × 10−2 kg SO2 eq. for Banagrass and Energycane, respectively. Ethanol production from Banagrass and Energycane resulted in a global warming potential of − 12.3 and − 40.0 g CO2 eq./kg ethanol. Conclusions: Utilizing hexoses and pentoses from Banagrass to produce ethyl acetate was the most economical scenario with a payback period of 11.2 years and an ROI of 8.93%, respectively. Electricity production was the most unprofitable scenario with an ROI of − 29.6% using Banagrass/Energycane as a feedstock that could be attributed to high feedstock moisture content. Producing ethylene or dodecane from either of the feedstocks was not economical. The moisture content and composition of biomasses affected overall economics of the various pathways studied. Producing ethanol and ethyl acetate from Energycane had a global warming potential of − 3.01 kg CO2 eq./kg ethyl acetate.
Techno-economic analysis , Life cycle assessments , Lignocelluloses , Biorefinery , Biomass pretreatment , Process simulation , Systems analysis , Advanced biofuels
Rajendran, K. and Murthy, G. S. (2017) ‘How does technology pathway choice influence economic viability and environmental impacts of lignocellulosic biorefineries?’, Biotechnology for Biofuels, 10, 268 (19pp). doi:10.1186/s13068-017-0959-x