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Applied Energy 148 (2015) 466475

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Integrated economic and life cycle assessment of thermochemical

production of bioethanol to reduce production cost by exploiting excess
of greenhouse gas savings
C. Reyes Valle, A.L. Villanueva Perales , F. Vidal-Barrero, P. Ollero
Bioenergy Group, Chemical and Environmental Engineering Department, Escuela Tcnica Superior de Ingeniera, University of Seville, Camino de los Descubrimientos s/n,
41092 Seville, Spain

h i g h l i g h t s

 Assessment of economics and sustainability of thermochemical ethanol production.

 Exploitation of excess CO2 saving by either importing fossil energy or CO2 trading.
 Signicant increase in alcohol production by replacing biomass with natural gas.
 CO2 emission trading is not cost-competitive versus import of fossil energy.
 Lowest ethanol production cost for partial oxidation as reforming technology.

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: In this work, two options are investigated to enhance the economics of the catalytic production of
Received 21 January 2015 bioethanol from biomass gasication by exploiting the excess of CO2 emission saving: (i) to import fossil
Received in revised form 19 March 2015 energy, in the form of natural gas and electricity or (ii) to trade CO2 emissions. To this end, an integrated
Accepted 22 March 2015
life cycle and economic assessment is carried out for four process congurations, each using a different
Available online 5 April 2015
light hydrocarbon reforming technology: partial oxidation, steam methane reforming, tar reforming and
autothermal reforming. The results show that for all process congurations the production of bioethanol
and other alcohols signicantly increases when natural gas displaces biomass, maintaining the total
energy content of the feedstock. The economic advantage of the partial substitution of biomass by natural
Ethanol gas depends on their prices and this is explored by carrying out a sensitivity analysis, taking historical
Natural gas prices into account. It is also concluded that the trade of CO2 emissions is not cost-competitive compared
LCA to the import of natural gas if the CO2 emission price remains within historical European prices. The CO2
emission price would have to double or even quadruple the highest CO2 historical price for CO2 emission
trading to be a cost-competitive option.
2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction particular, the most important factors for the wide range of results
are input parameter values, such as crop yields and fertilizer
Bioethanol is the transportation fuel with largest worldwide requirements, system boundaries, allocation procedure and fossil
production: 87.2  103 millions of litres in 2013 [1]. Most bioetha- reference systems [3]. In this sense, in Europe some authors
nol is produced in rst generation processes, mainly from starch demand more detailed rules for the application of the European
crops, such as corn in USA, or sugar crops, such as sugar cane in Renewable Energy Directive (ERED) [4] guidelines, like decisions
Brazil. The environmental benets of rst generation (1G) ethanol about nature of waste material or denition of boundaries between
have been evaluated by numerous studies by means of Life Cycle the processes [5]. Regarding corn-based ethanol, most studies have
Assessment (LCA) [2]. There is a wide range of results due to differ- concluded that when used as a transportation fuel to displace pet-
ent assumptions and calculation methodologies in the LCA. In roleum-based gasoline, a reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emis-
sions is achieved [3]. Some studies question the GHG benets of
corn-based ethanol arguing that non-carbon emissions from soil
Corresponding author. Tel.: +34 954487281; fax: +34 954461775. due to the use of fertilizers [6] or effect of crop residue removal
E-mail address: (A.L. Villanueva Perales).
0306-2619/ 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
C. Reyes Valle et al. / Applied Energy 148 (2015) 466475 467


1G or 2G rst or second generation LCA Life Cycle Assessment

ATR autothermal reforming/reformer MESP minimum ethanol selling price
EFG entrained ow gasication POX partial oxidation
GHG greenhouse gas SMR steam methane reforming/reformer
iCFBG steamair indirect circulating uidized bed gasica- TR tar reforming/reformer
tion/gasier WTT Well-To-Tank

are not properly accounted for and these nullify the benets of and fossil fuel consumption. This is mainly due to the larger export
GHG savings. On the other hand, all LCA studies on bioethanol from of electricity in the biochemical process, which provides remark-
sugar cane have concluded that much higher GHG savings than able credits. The reason is that fuel mix for electricity in USA is lar-
corn-based ethanol are achieved, thereby constituting the highest gely dominated by coal, a carbon-intensive fuel. However, if the
GHG savings of rst generation biofuels [2]. However, these studies higher alcohols co-produced in the thermochemical conversion
do not take into account the depletion of carbon pools when sugar are sold as chemicals instead of fuel, the environmental perfor-
cane plantation replaces tropical forest (deforestation). This land mance is better than biochemical conversion due to the credits
use change may counterbalance the GHG savings of bioethanol associated with chemicals being displaced. They also concluded
from sugar cane [2,7]. that if natural gas were imported to produce heat and steam
Second generation (2G) ethanol is produced from lignocellulosic instead of using synthesis gas from biomass, ethanol production
biomass, such as residues from agriculture, forestry and industry would increase at the expense of larger GHG emissions and fossil
and/or dedicated lignocellulosic energy crops, by either fuel consumption. Kou et al. [26] concluded that for thermochemi-
thermochemical or biochemical processing, as well as by a cal ethanol production, a multifeedstock approach, considering
combination of both. In the thermochemical route, biomass is rst agricultural residues, wood and municipal solid waste, reduces
converted by gasication, typically above 800 C, into synthesis the risk of bankruptcy and results in lower GHG emissions per litre
gas, which is thereafter conditioned and catalytically converted of ethanol compared to a single feedstock approach, if feedstock
into ethanol. The catalytic conversion of syngas to ethanol can be supply disruption is taken into account. Daystar et al. [30] calcu-
accomplished in one step (direct routes) or several steps through lated GHG emissions of ethanol from waste biomass (pine resi-
intermediates (indirect routes) [811]. In the biochemical route, dues) and concluded that the greatest impact of emissions were
sugars contained in lignocellulosic biomass are extracted and then due to the thermochemical conversion process. This study com-
fermented into ethanol in an aqueous medium. In the approach pared a base case scenario without allocation to pine residues of
combining the thermochemical and biochemical routes, the syn- the GHG emissions of pine forest establishment, maintenance
thesis gas from biomass gasication is fermented to produce etha- and harvest with a scenario that allocated these emissions to the
nol [12]. There are some commercial plants producing 2G ethanol primary wood product and residues by mass fraction. They con-
either by means of biochemical processing, thermochemical pro- cluded that GHG emissions of bioethanol were not sensitive to
cessing via indirect routes or fermentation of syngas [1316]. To the method of allocation. Daystar et al. [27] also studied the impact
the best of our knowledge, there are no commercial plants convert- of feedstock composition on ethanol yield and GHG emissions for
ing syngas to ethanol by direct catalytic route. thermochemical ethanol production and their results indicate that
The vast majority of LCA studies on 2G ethanol are focused on the moisture and ash contents of biomass greatly inuence both
the biochemical route and most of them conclude that greater outcomes. Finally, Muth et al. [29] analysed the inuences of biore-
GHG savings than 1G ethanol can be achieved [2,3,17,18]. nery size, biomass supply system designs and feedstock specica-
Exceptions may occur when the energy used to feed the biomass tions on process economics and environmental sustainability of
conversion process comes from carbon-intensive fossil sources, thermochemical production of bioethanol from woody feedstock.
such as coal [19]. Good reviews on LCA of 2G biochemical ethanol They concluded that the additional cost of advanced logistic supply
are provided by [17,18]. Recent environmental assessments of the systems is off-set by the economy of scale of larger bioreneries
biochemical route analyse factors such as biomass pretreatment and the ability to reduce the moisture and ash of the feedstock,
[2022], plantation management and location [22]. Integrated eco- which benets the storage and conversion process.
nomic and life cycle assessments of biochemical production of A common feature of these LCA studies on thermochemical
ethanol have been published by Petrou et al. [23] who used an ethanol production is that the process is designed to be energy
aggregate index which consider both economic and environmental self-sustained, that is, without the import of heat or electricity.
performance to select between different ethanol production sys- This decision implies that GHG emissions incurred in the produc-
tems, and Juneja et al. [24] who studied ethanol production from tion of ethanol are minimized, but this may not be optimal from
two types of straw. an economic point of view. The import of fossil fuel and/or electric-
LCA studies on 2G ethanol by thermochemical processing are ity may improve the economics of the process at the expense of
scarce [2530] and they are all based on the thermochemical pro- lower environmental performance. Only Mu et al. [25] studied
cess proposed by NREL [31]. The most important features of NRELs the effect of importing natural gas on ethanol productivity and
process is the use of an indirect uidized bed gasier for biomass GHG emissions, but not on the economics of the plant.
gasication, an alkali-doped MoS2 mixed alcohols catalyst for etha- This paper is the third part of a study which aims to evaluate
nol synthesis, and a tar reformer to reform hydrocarbons produced different types of biomass gasication technologies (entrained-
in the gasier and synthesis reactor. Mu et al. [25] compared the ow gasication, EFG, and indirect circulating uidized bed
biochemical and thermochemical production of ethanol by means gasication, iCFBG) and mixed alcohol catalysts (RhMn/SiO2 and
of LCA for various technological scenarios (current, short term KCoMoS2) for the thermochemical production of ethanol. The rst
and long term) and different feedstock. They concluded that the part of the study dealt with processes based on EFG [32], while the
biochemical conversion has slightly lower overall GHG emissions second part assessed several congurations based on iCFBG and
468 C. Reyes Valle et al. / Applied Energy 148 (2015) 466475

reforming technologies (autothermal reforming, steam methane process. If there is a decit of power, a fraction of the recycle syn-
reforming, partial oxidation and tar reforming) [33]. The main con- gas is diverted to further power production in a combined cycle.
clusions from these papers are that processes based on EFG are less The latter is not necessary in the POX conguration as the amount
protable and that, among iCFBG based processes, the lowest etha- of energy released in the POX reactor allows the generation of
nol production cost is achieved by a process conguration that enough steam to power the process. In the scenario where con-
makes use of KCoMoS2 as the mixed alcohol catalyst and partial sumption of fossil energy is considered, a fraction of the biomass
oxidation as reforming technology. In the assessment, the pro- feed is replaced by natural gas, which is fed to the reformer reactor,
cesses were designed to be energy self-sustained, that is, without and electricity is taken from the grid to satisfy the power decit of
importing electricity and fossil fuels. As explained before this the plant. There are GHG emissions associated with grid-electricity
design criterion has been chosen so far in the literature regarding which depends on the mix-fuel for power production in the coun-
thermochemical production of ethanol but it may not be optimal try. The use of fossil energy is limited because a minimum reduc-
from an economic point of view. The aim of the present work is tion of GHG emissions is imposed by regulations so that ethanol
to carry out an integrated economic and life cycle assessment of can be qualied as renewable, as explained in the next section.
the thermochemical production of ethanol in order to analyse the
potential reduction of ethanol production cost when fossil energy 2.2. Life Cycle Assessment
is imported by exploiting the excess of GHG emission saving over
that required by the ERED. Natural gas and electricity from the grid The purpose of the LCA is to determine the GHG emissions of
have been chosen as fossil fuel energy sources due to their easy the Well-To-Tank stages of bioethanol production: biomass
availability. Trading of CO2 emissions on the CO2 market is also cultivation and transportation to conversion plant, biomass con-
studied as an alternative option to exploit excess of GHG emission version to ethanol and ethanol transportation and distribution to
saving. This option is not regulated by the ERED but it is explored lling stations. The ISO 14040-series standards on LCA have been
to determine how much it would benet the economics of the followed in order to calculate the global warming potential (GHG
plant if it were allowed in the future. emissions) of each stage. Other environmental impacts, such as
To the best of our knowledge this integrated analysis has never acidication, eutrophication and ozone depletion, were not
been carried out so far in the literature for thermochemical pro- assessed. The LCA calculations are implemented in a spreadsheet
duction of ethanol by direct catalytic route. The study is applied which is linked to the simulations. The LCA tool is exible to take
to the four iCFBG based ethanol production processes presented into account the use of fossil energy, such as natural gas or electric-
in our previous papers [33] and only a current technology scenario ity, in the conversion stage. The calculations of the LCA are briey
is considered, that is, the processes make use of available technolo- explained below.
gies and a state-of-the-art MoS2 catalyst [33,34].
The paper is organized as follows: rstly, the thermochemical 2.2.1. System and functional unit
processes for ethanol production under consideration are briey The system is each of the process alternatives presented in
presented; then the LCA methodology for calculating GHG emis- Section 2.1. The plant size is chosen to be 500 MWth in terms of
sions is explained, considering a Well-To-Tank approach; and total feedstock energy (HHV basis), for the sake of comparison with
nally, the two scenarios described above are studied. our previous work. When only biomass is used as a feedstock, this
means 2140 dry ton/day of biomass (poplar). The ultimate analysis
is shown in Table 1. The plant will operate for 20 years and be
2. Methodology located in the Duero valley, autonomous region of Castilla y Len
(Spain), because there are extensive cultivations of poplar there
2.1. Thermochemical ethanol production processes due to favourable climate conditions and there is enough land to
supply poplar to such a plant.
The four conversion processes studied in this work have been In accordance with the European Directive 2009/28/CE, the
described in detail elsewhere [33]. Here they are briey presented emissions associated with the production and maintenance of
for the readers convenience. The processes comprise six main the machinery and pieces of equipment used in the life cycle
stages: biomass pretreatment (drying, milling), gasication, gas stages are not considered. For the assessment, national
clean-up (removal of tars, alkalis and particles), gas conditioning data is used whenever possible, and otherwise, ofcial European
(acid gas removal and gas reforming), ethanol synthesis and alco- data.
hols separation. The conguration of the plant depends on the As the objective is the production of ethanol as biofuel, the cho-
method selected for the reforming of light hydrocarbons and tars sen functional unit is 1 MJ of ethanol on a Low Heating Value (LHV)
(Fig. 1). A large amount of light hydrocarbons are generated in an basis. Methanol and propanol are co-produced along with ethanol.
iCFB gasier and, to a lesser extent, in the ethanol synthesis reac- As commented above, electricity is also a co-product in the case of
tor. These hydrocarbons must be reformed and converted into CO POX conguration, which is exported to the grid.
and H2 in order to increase ethanol production. Tars generated in
the gasier must be removed to prevent fouling of downstream 2.2.2. Life cycle inventory
equipment. In two plant congurations (Fig. 1a and b), tars are For each life cycle stage, the direct and indirect GHG emissions
removed by scrubbing with an organic solvent while light hydro- are calculated and converted to equivalent CO2 using emission fac-
carbons are reformed either by autothermal reforming (ATR) or tors. The indirect GHG emissions are related to the production of
steam reforming (SMR) (Fig. 1a), or alternatively, converted by chemicals, fertilizers, electricity, fossil fuels, etc., used in the life
non-catalytic partial oxidation (POX) (Fig. 1b). The removed tars cycle stages.
from the gas are recycled to the iCFBG to increase the gasication
efciency and to avoid the disposal of condensates [3537]. In a Biomass cultivation. Data for poplar cultivation in Castilla y
third plant conguration (Fig. 1c), tars and light hydrocarbons Len was taken from the literature [3840]. The following assump-
are converted by steam reforming in the same unit (catalytic tar tions were made: (i) there is neither direct nor indirect land use
reformer, TR). change since poplar cultivation already exists in the chosen land;
When the processes are designed to be energy self-sustained, (ii) the emissions related to preparation and sowing of the land
power is generated in a steam cycle from heat released by the are distributed among all biomass harvested at the end of a
C. Reyes Valle et al. / Applied Energy 148 (2015) 466475 469

Fig. 1. Plant conguration for the four reforming options considered in this work: (a) steam methane reforming (SMR) or autothermal reforming (ATR); (b) partial oxidation
(POX); (c) tar reforming (TR). At the bottom, the product separation train is shown, common for all the options. Note: the dotted line named ATR in option (a) indicates that
expansion of syngas does not occur in the case of ATR.

Table 1 are three cycles of ve years each. After each cycle, the trees are
Properties of the biomass feedstock (poplar). cut to ground surface. At the end of the third cycle, the trunks
Component wt%, dry basis are treated with insecticide to remove the roots, and after three
Carbon 50.90
months, new cuttings are planted. The average production of bio-
Hydrogen 6.05 mass is 216 tons per hectare on a dry basis for the three cycles
Oxygen 41.92 as a whole. The land is divided into ve sectors so one sector at a
Nitrogen 0.17 time is at the end of a cycle to supply biomass to the plant while
Sulphur 0.04
the others are at different stages of their cycles. The required total
Ash 0.92
land area is 50817 ha. The following factors were calculated to esti-
Moisture 30 wt%
mate GHG emissions: (i) consumption of fertilizer, insecticide, her-
HHV (d.b) 20.18 MJ/kg
bicide, fungicide and diesel for agricultural machinery based on
[42]; (ii) electricity for irrigation and (iii) direct and indirect N2O
ground emissions based on IPCC recommendations [43].
rotation period; (iii) chipping takes place in the ethanol plant but
its emissions are considered in this stage. A loss of 2.5% of biomass Biomass transportation. The poplar logs are transported
is assumed during chipping [41]. with 40-ton trucks from the eld to the ethanol plant. A 40-ton
The duration of a whole crop is 16 years. In the rst year, land truck can load a total of 26 tons of biomass, whose moisture con-
preparation and the planting of cuttings takes place. Then, there tent is assumed to be 30 wt%. It is considered that the plant is
470 C. Reyes Valle et al. / Applied Energy 148 (2015) 466475

located in the centre of a circle surrounded by the land. An average 2.2.3. Impact assessment
return distance between the eld and the plant gate is calculated The WTT GHG emissions of ethanol in terms of the functional
and corrected by a tortuosity factor (1.5), resulting in an effective unit (1 MJ LHV ethanol) are calculated by dividing the GHG emis-
return distance of 13 km. From these data, coupled with a factor sions of the life cycle stages as a whole by the total amount of etha-
of transport efciency for 40-ton trucks [44], the diesel consump- nol produced during plant life (20 years). Notice that the GHG
tion in transportation is calculated. emissions calculation includes ve years of biomass cultivation
before commission of the plant. Biomass conversion. The direct GHG emissions of the con- 3. Results and discussion
version process are due to the presence of greenhouse gases, such
as CO2 and N2O, in the outlet streams of the process. The CO2 in The production rates of alcohols, electricity and elemental sul-
these streams that comes from biomass has zero global warming phur, as well as energy efciency to alcohols for each plant cong-
effect. When some biomass is replaced with natural gas an emis- uration are shown in Table 2 when they are designed to be energy
sion factor of 56 g CO2eq/MJ is used for imported natural gas. self-sustained with biomass. For the TR, SMR and ATR cong-
N2O is present in some ue gas streams that leave the plant but urations, there is small mismatch between power demand and
at negligible concentration as these streams are generated during generation within the plant, which is negligible compared to elec-
processes (gas turbine, tar combustor, gasier combustor) where tricity consumed in the plants. In the POX conguration there is an
combustion takes place at temperatures higher than at which export of electricity as a signicant amount of chemical energy is
N2O is substantially formed (700900 C) [45]. converted to heat in the POX unit and recovered for power produc-
In the conversion process, chemicals, catalysts and adsorbents tion. The difference in technical performance between plant con-
are consumed which implies indirect GHG emissions. Most of gurations is explained elsewhere [33], while environmental
the replacement rates of catalysts and adsorbents, and the performance in terms of GHG emissions is explained below.
make-up of solvents have been taken from literature, or esti-
mated. The emissions factors of chemicals were taken from 3.1. Well-To-Tank greenhouse gas emissions
Biograce [44], Ecoinvent [46] and European Commission data-
base [47]. The list of chemicals, catalysts and adsorbents consid- Contributions to total GHG emissions for each plant in the sce-
ered in the GHG emission calculation are: (i) Catalysts: sour nario of energy self-sufciency are shown in Table 3. The larger
Water Gas Shift, Autothermal Reforming, Steam Methane emissions correspond to the biomass cultivation stage, mainly
Reforming, MoS2 mixed alcohol catalyst, LO-CAT process for due to the use of agrochemicals and derived NO2 emissions, in
the production of elemental sulphur from removed H2S; (ii) agreement with other publications on LCA of bioreneries
Adsorbents: ZnO adsorbent for H2S removal, Zeolite for H2O [17,49]. The second largest source of emissions is the biomass con-
removal in a molecular sieve; (iii) Chemicals: solvent (biodiesel) version stage, except in the TR conguration. The reason for this
for tar removal, make-up solvent (DEPG) for the Selexol process, exception is that most of the emissions (8095%) in the conversion
CaCO3 and methanol for NH3 removal in tertiary waste water stage of the POX, SMR and ATR congurations are those associated
treatment processes. The emission factor of the sour WGS cata- with the make-up of biodiesel used as an organic solvent for tar
lyst was not found so it was estimated based on the compounds scrubbing. In the TR conguration, tars are removed in a catalytic
it is comprised of. reactor, being the emissions associated with the make-up of tar
In some scenarios electricity is imported to satisfy the power reforming catalyst much smaller. For POX, SMR and ATR cong-
demand of the plant. The GHG emission of imported electricity urations, the third largest source of emission is that of ethanol
was calculated by using the emission factor of Spanish grid-elec-
tricity: 61.94 g CO2eq/MJe [48]. Table 2
In the conversion plant, ethanol, methanol and propanol are Technical performance of plant congurations for energy self-sufciency scenario.
produced as well as electricity in the case of the POX conguration.
GHG emissions of biomass production, transportation and conver-
sion stages were allocated to these products according to their Methanol (kT/a) 41.5 39.5 37.2 35.3
Ethanol (kT/a) 144.9 141.4 133.4 126.8
energy content (energy criterion), which is one of the options pro-
Propanol (kT/a) 15.5 15.1 14.2 13.5
posed by ISO standards and the European Commission. This criter- Electricitya (MW) 3.91 0 0 0
ion is sensible as the nal use of ethanol is as fuel. The production Energy eff. to ethanol b(HHV) 29.79% 29.09% 27.44% 26.08%
of elemental sulphur is so small compared to alcohols that it is not Energy eff. to alcohols b(HHV) 40.12% 38.98% 36.63% 34.83%
considered for allocation. a
Negative sign means that electricity is exported.
Dened as fraction of energy of biomass feedstock (500 MWth) in products on
HHV basis.
c Ethanol transportation and distribution. Ethanol is trans- The production rates and energy efciencies are a little higher than those
reported in our previous work [33] as some improvements in the heat integration of
ported from the conversion plant to blending facilities where etha- the plants have been introduced.
nol is blended with gasoline to produce E15, which is then
transported to lling stations. It is assumed that there is no loss
of ethanol in the distribution and fuelling of cars. The GHG emis- Table 3
sions considered in this stage are: (i) transport of ethanol from WTT greenhouse gas emissions of plant congurations for energy self-sufciency
the conversion plant to blending facilities by tanker; (ii) blending
operations; (iii) transport of E15 to lling station; and (iv) fuelling Emissions (g CO2eq/MJ) POX TR SMR ATR
of cars. Biomass cultivation 4.46 4.65 4.97 5.23
The average distance between the conversion plant and blend- Biomass transport 0.21 0.22 0.23 0.24
ing facilities and between blending facilities and fuelling stations Biomass conversion 1.40 0.11 1.51 1.56
was calculated by taking into account the actual location of blend- Ethanol transportation and distribution 0.88 0.88 0.88 0.88
WTT GHG emissions 6.95 5.86 7.59 7.91
ing facilities and lling stations in the autonomous region of Emission reduction (%) 92 93 91 91
Castilla y Len.
C. Reyes Valle et al. / Applied Energy 148 (2015) 466475 471

transportation and distribution, while biomass transport has the 95%

lowest impact on emissions. In the case of the TR conguration, 90%
the stage with lowest emissions is the conversion of biomass.

GHG emission reduction

The ethanol produced in all plant congurations has an emis- 85%
sion reduction larger than 90% compared to the emission reference 80%
of fossil fuel dictated by the European Renewable Directive POX
(83.8 g CO2eq/MJ). Therefore, for all plants, the ethanol produced ATR
can be certied as biofuel since a minimum emission reduction 70%
of 60% is required from 2018 according to the European 65% TR
Renewable Directive. A reduction higher than required raises two
60% Limit
issues: (i) there is an opportunity to use fossil energy in the conver-
sion process in order to improve the economy as long as the mini- 55%
mum reduction of GHG emissions is not violated; (ii) the excess of 50%
emission reduction could be sold on the CO2 market. 0 20 40 60 80 100 120 140
Whether a plant should be designed to import fossil energy Natural gas imported (MWth)
(natural gas and electricity), sell CO2 emissions, or both, in order
to minimize the production cost of ethanol during plant life largely Fig. 2. Change of GHG emission with replacement of biomass energy with natural
gas (MW on HHV basis) for each plant conguration. Note: At 0 MWth energy
depends on the relative prices of biomass, natural gas and CO2
replacement, electricity is imported if needed (see Fig. 4).
emissions and their time evolution. This involves an optimization
problem with relatively high uncertainty regarding former prices:
biomass and CO2 emissions markets are not mature yet and the 46%
price of natural gas is quite sensitive to world conicts and political

Energy efficiency to alcohols

issues. In this work, the impact of those prices on ethanol produc- 44%
tion cost is examined by conducting a sensitivity analysis.
Details on economic evaluation were presented in our previous
work [33]. For each plant conguration, initial investment and 40%
operating costs are calculated from simulation results. A cash ow POX
analysis is carried out to determine a minimum ethanol selling ATR
price (MESP) to recover the initial investment plus a 10% rate of 36% SMR
return considering 100% equity nancing. The costs are expressed
34% TR
in US dollars for ease of comparison with our previous research.
3.2. Import of fossil energy (co-feeding scenario)
0 20 40 60 80 100 120 140
In this scenario, a fraction of the biomass feed is replaced by
Natural gas imported (MWth)
natural gas, which is fed to the reformer reactor, and electricity
is taken from the grid to satisfy the power decit of the plant if Fig. 3. Energy efciency to total alcohols (energy alcohols/energy feedstock on HHV
necessary, that is, syngas is not diverted for power production. basis) as a function of natural gas imported for each plant conguration.
Natural gas is available at 60 bar from the Spanish main supply
grid [50]. In the cases of tar and steam reformers, natural gas is
fed to the reformer combustor substituting a fraction of the bio-
Imported (+)/exported(-) electricity (MWe)

mass-derived syngas. The reason is that in the mixed alcohol pro-
duction with MoS2-based catalysts the required H2/CO molar ratio 6.0
is 1. Steam reforming of natural gas would increase this ratio
unless a high amount of CO2 is recycled to the reformer bed, and 4.0
this is avoided by burning natural gas in the reformer combustor
instead of biomass-derived syngas. 2.0
The replacement of biomass with natural gas is analysed by ATR
keeping the total feedstock energy content at 500 MWth on a 0.0 SMR
HHV basis. For each plant conguration the replacement is limited 0 20 40 60 80 100 120 140
by the minimum GHG emission reduction of 60%. As expected, the -2.0
total GHG emissions increase linearly with the amount of biomass
replaced by natural gas (Fig. 2). Alcohol production also increases -4.0
linearly with biomass replacement (not shown), resulting in the
same trend for alcohol energy efciency (Fig. 3). Fig. 4 shows -6.0
Natural gas imported (MWth)
how the import/export of electricity changes with the replacement
of biomass with natural gas. The trends are different and they are Fig. 4. Imported(+)/exported( ) electricity (MWe) with amount of natural gas
the net result of increase/decrease of power consumption of pro- imported for each plant conguration.
cess units and capacity of power generation within each plant.
The net outcome is that as biomass replacement increases, the sur- The replacement of biomass by natural gas is benecial in terms
plus of electricity in the POX conguration barely changes, the of energy efciency but its economic advantage depends on the
export of electricity of TR conguration and import of electricity total capital investment (TCI) and operation costs. Fig. 5 shows that
of SMR tend to zero, and the power decit of the ATR conguration TCI decreases with biomass replacement. At maximum replace-
decreases. It can be concluded that the surplus or decit of electric- ment, reductions of 3% (ATR), 4.5% (SMR), 6.6% (POX) and 7% (TR)
ity of each plant conguration is not signicant compared to the in capital expense are achieved, mostly due to the reduced gasica-
energy content of mixed alcohols. tion and derived syngas clean-up areas, which is somewhat offset
472 C. Reyes Valle et al. / Applied Energy 148 (2015) 466475

560 1.2

Minimum ethanol selling price ($/L)

Total capital investment (M$)


TR 0.4
500 TR

0 20 40 60 80 100 120 140 0.0
Natural gas imported (MWth) 0 2 4 6 8 10
Biomass price ($/GJ)
Fig. 5. Change of total capital investment (million dollars) with amount of natural
gas imported for each plant conguration. Fig. 7. MESP sensitivity analysis on biomass price for co-feeding case by xing
natural gas price at 9 $/GJ (LHV basis).

Minimum ethanol selling price ($/L)

1.2 Self-sufficiency

Minimum ethanol selling price ($/L) 1.0

NG 12 $/GJ
NG 9 $/GJ
POX 0.9
NG 6.5 $/GJ
0.6 0.8

0.4 TR

0.2 0.6

0 2 4 6 8 10 0.5
0 2 4 6 8 10
Biomass price ($/GJ)
Biomass price ($/GJ)
Fig. 6. MESP sensitivity analysis on biomass price for energy self-sufcient
scenario. Wet biomass price expressed on LHV basis. Fig. 8. POX conguration: intersections of MESP curve of biomass self-sufciency
scenario with MESP curves of co-feeding scenario for different natural gas prices
when maximum amount of natural gas is imported (60% GHG saving limit is
by the increase in capital expense in other plant areas, mainly syn-
thesis loop and separation area. Therefore, co-feeding of natural
gas is benecial in terms of capital expense. SMR and ATR congurations are quite similar except at a high bio-
The operation costs are dominated by the price of natural gas and mass price, where they slightly diverge. In both self-sufciency
biomass. The price of natural gas has uctuated considerably in the and co-feeding scenarios, the POX conguration has the greatest
last decade [51] and the price of biomass depends on plant location energy efciency to ethanol and lowest MESP. Therefore, it can be
and market demand. As there is signicant uncertainty surrounding concluded that the POX conguration is the most protable,
those prices, for each plant conguration a sensitivity analysis on irrespective of the scenario considered and the price of natural gas
both prices was carried out. When the plant is designed to be energy and biomass.
self-sufcient with biomass, the POX conguration results in the In any event, having chosen a plant conguration, the option to
lowest MESP, followed by TR, SMR and ATR, in order of increasing design the plant to be either energy self-sustained with only bio-
MESP (Fig. 6). It is reasonable that, the TCI of the plant cong- mass as feedstock or replace the maximum amount of biomass with
urations being quite similar, the larger the energy efciency to etha- natural gas and import electricity, depends largely on the price of
nol (Table 2), the lower the MESP for the same price of biomass. For biomass and natural gas. A graph can be produced for each plant
the co-feeding scenario, three levels of natural gas price are consid- conguration that may help to make such decision. The methodol-
ered based on historical records of the last decade [51]: low (6.5 $/GJ ogy is explained for the POX conguration based on Fig. 8. First, the
on LHV basis), intermediate (9 $/GJ) and high (12 $/GJ). For each of intersections between the curve of MESP for the self-sufciency
these levels, the sensitivity of MESP of each plant with price of bio- case and MESP curves for the co-feeding case evaluated at the three
mass is carried out. For the purposes of the analysis, the Spanish levels of natural gas price are determined. These points are pairs of
price of grid-electricity is used (0.07 $/kW h) [52]. Fig. 7 shows the natural gas-biomass prices which result in the same MESP for the
results for the intermediate level. For the other levels, the relative self-sufciency and co-feeding cases. These points dene a locus
values of MESP between plant congurations are similar. or frontier in a natural gas-biomass price space for each plant con-
Irrespective of the natural gas and biomass prices, the lowest guration, as shown in Fig. 9. If the expected future biomass and
MESP corresponds to the POX conguration, and it is considerably natural gas prices dene a region located just below the
lower than the MESP of the other congurations. The MESP of TR, corresponding frontier, then a biomass energy self-sustained plant
C. Reyes Valle et al. / Applied Energy 148 (2015) 466475 473

7 1.05

6 1.00

Minimum ethanol selling price ($/L)

Biomass price ($/GJ)


SMR 0.85 SMR
0 5 10 15 0.70
Natural gas price ($/GJ) 0 20 40 60 80
CO2 price ($/ton)
Fig. 9. Frontier between biomass self-sufciency and co-feeding scenarios for each
plant conguration. Note: POX and ATR lines overlap. Fig. 10. Relationship of MESP with CO2 price when all excess of GHG saving is sold
(setting biomass price at 5 $/GJ and natural gas price at 9 $/GJ).

is more protable than the import of fossil energy, and vice versa. If 3.3. Trade of CO2 allowance
the region is distributed both above and below a frontier, it means
that the plant should be designed to be exible in its use of natural The greenhouse gas European Trading System (ETS) puts a limit
gas to some extent. This means that the plant should be designed to on overall CO2 emissions from high-emitting industry sectors, such
accommodate its operation to daily or monthly uctuations in as oil reneries. Companies can buy or sell emission allowances
natural gas and biomass cost, in order to maintain bioethanol pro- within this limit if they emit more or less CO2 than they are allowed
duction while keeping operating cost as low as possible. If biomass to, respectively [53]. A biorenery, as a processing plant, may pro-
price decreases, feedstock distribution will shift to biomass. As duce biofuels with CO2 savings greater than imposed by the ERED. If
energy conversion of biomass into alcohols is lower than from natu- this were recognized by the ERED a biorenery could sell excess of
ral gas (Fig. 3), the necessary increase in biomass energy input to GHG gas savings over the 60% limit as CO2 allowances and benets
maintain ethanol production would be larger than reduction of for greener production. This hypothetical scenario is explored in
natural gas energy input. Therefore, gasication and biomass- this work to see how it would impact on the economics of the plant.
derived syngas clean-up areas should be oversized in a larger extent The CO2 European market has not matured yet and the CO2
than the reformer to accommodate changes in feedstock dis- emission market price has uctuated considerably in the past
tribution from the nominal operating point. However, in TR cong- few years, from 5 Eur/ton and 17 Eur/ton (722 $/ton) [54]. This
uration, the train of tar reformers should be oversized in the same behaviour is expected to continue as new European regulations
extent as gasiers because they serve the function of both tar on CO2 emissions will come into force soon that will decrease
removal and hydrocarbons reforming. Regarding gasication area, the offer of CO2 emissions, pushing up the CO2 emission price
we assume in our study that there is a train of gasiers, with a maxi- [53]. Fig. 10 shows that MESP decreases linearly with CO2 prices
mum capacity of each gasication unit of 125 MWth [33]. At the for the four congurations, assuming that all excess of GHG savings
nominal operating point the gasiers should operate below the is sold (i.e. the minimum 60% GHG emission limit is reached). The
maximum capacity (say 80%) and accommodate changes in feed- price of biomass in this analysis is xed at the current price of
stock distribution by exploiting their spare or turndown capacity. poplar in Spain (66 $/wet ton or 5 $/GJ on LHV basis) [55]. In the
On the other hand, overall electricity balance of the plant barely range of historical CO2 emission prices, the MESP reduction is very
changes with feedstock distribution (Fig. 4), except in the case of low, between almost 0% and 2%. Whether it is of economic interest
ATR conguration, but this is easily accommodated by importing to sell the CO2 allowance or import fossil energy depends on the
more electricity from the grid if necessary. prices of CO2, natural gas and biomass, and to a lesser extent, the
In Fig. 9, the relative position of the frontiers are related to how price of grid-electricity. For given biomass and natural gas prices
much the economics of the congurations improves when shifting one can determine the price of CO2, which results in the same
from the self-sufciency to the co-feeding scenario, mainly due to MESP for both situations. This break-even CO2 price ($/ton) for
the increase in energy efciency to products. Thus, the frontiers of the current price of poplar in Spain (5 $/GJ) and historical average
the plant congurations which benet most (larger increase in price of natural gas (9 $/GJ) is 84.7 (POX), 79.8 (ATR), 71.7 (SMR)
energy efciency) are located at the bottom (POX and ATR) while and 31.8 (TR). Obviously, the break-even CO2 price is high for
that which benet least, TR conguration, is at the top. This makes plant congurations (POX, ATR and SMR) whose efciency signi-
sense as natural gas is not converted to mixed alcohols so ef- cantly increases when importing fossil energy, unlike the TR con-
ciently in the TR conguration compared to the others (Fig. 3). guration whose break-even CO2 price is much lower and closer
Only when the price of natural gas is much lower than the biomass to historical prices. Therefore, it is not expected that ATR, SMR
price is the co-feeding option for the TR conguration benecial. and POX congurations would benet from the sale of excess of
As explained in our previous work, there is uncertainty sur- GHG savings if it were allowed in the future and therefore, should
rounding MESP due to xed capital cost estimations. At any rate, be designed to import fossil energy.
the POX conguration has the greatest energy efciency to alco-
hols and lowest estimated MESP, both in self-sufcient and co- 4. Conclusions
feeding scenarios. As the POX technology is mature, it seems to
be the most suitable reforming technology for the mixed alcohol In previous work, the production of bioethanol from biomass
production process. via indirect circulating uidized bed gasication and catalytic
474 C. Reyes Valle et al. / Applied Energy 148 (2015) 466475

synthesis plant was assessed [33]. The plant was designed to be option would be to store the CO2 captured in the Selexol units
energy self-sustained with biomass having a plant size of (Carbon Capture and Storage, CCS). This would reduce the CO2
500 MWth in terms of energy content (HHV) of feedstock [33]. In emissions, which could then be further exploited to import more
this work, two options are investigated to economically enhance fossil energy and increase the efciency of the plant [56]. This mas-
bioethanol production: either (i) import fossil energy in the form sive use of fossil energy with CCS may be interesting in regions
of natural gas and electricity to displace biomass and economically where fossil fuel is cheap. It should be investigated if this option
optimize the plant, while still producing ethanol that can be quali- is cost-competitive as further investment and operating costs are
ed as renewable; or (ii) trade CO2 emissions when more CO2 is necessary for CO2 compression, conditioning and transport before
saved displacing petroleum-based gasoline than required by storage. Finally, for regions where there is an excess of biomass,
renewable regulations. To this end, a combined LCA and economic this will be cheap and self-sufciency operation with biomass will
analysis is carried out for four process congurations, each using a be favoured. Particularly, if abundant waste biomass is available,
different light hydrocarbon reforming technology: partial oxida- such as forest residue, the greenhouse gas emissions will be
tion (POX), steam methane reforming (SMR), tar reforming (TR) reduced signicantly as most of fossil carbon emission of the life
and autothermal reforming (ATR) [33]. A detailed Well-to-Tank cycle usually comes from the biomass cultivation stage [30]. This
LCA of the four congurations is carried out. The hypothetical plant improved environmental performance could be exploited by sell-
is assumed to be located in a suitable location in Spain, in order to ing more CO2 allowances if this were allowed in the future by
obtain more realistic results. For the four congurations, the LCA the ERED.
analysis indicates that if the plant is energy self-sustained by bio-
mass, the GHG emissions associated with ethanol are much lower
than those required by European regulations, around 90% reduc-
tion with respect to a fossil fuel reference against 60% reduction
This work has been self-nanced. Abengoa Bioenergy is grate-
imposed by regulations. Therefore, there is a margin to either
fully acknowledged for providing technical information for the
import fossil energy or sell CO2 allowance in order to enhance prof-
assessment. We also gratefully acknowledge Blanca Mara
itability. The latter option is not regulated by the European
Pedregal Solano for setting up the LCA calculation tools.
Commission for this kind of facility but it is explored here.
As natural gas is imported and displaces biomass, maintaining
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