Impacts of Feedstock Composition on Alcohol Yields and Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the NREL Thermochemical Ethanol Conversion Process

Jesse S. Daystar, Richard A. Venditti, Ronalds Gonzales, Hasan Jameel, Mike Jett, Carter W. Reeb


There has been great attention focused on the effects of first and second generation biofuels on global warming. The Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) and the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) have mandated production levels and performance criteria of biofuels in the United States. The thermochemical conversion of biomass to ethanol shows potential as a biofuel production pathway. The objective of this research was to examine the alcohol yields and GHG emissions from the thermochemical conversion process for six different feedstocks on a gate-to-gate basis. GHG analyses and life cycle assessments were performed for natural hardwood, loblolly pine, eucalyptus, miscanthus, corn stover, and switchgrass feedstocks using a NREL thermochemical model and SimaPro. Alcohol yield and GHG emission for the hybrid poplar baseline feedstock conversion were 105,400 L dry metric ton−1 and 2.8 kg CO2 eq. per liter, respectively. Compared with the baseline, loblolly pine produced the highest alcohol yields, an 8.5% increase, and the lowest GHG emissions per liter of ethanol, a 9.1% decrease. Corn stover, due to its high ash content, had the lowest yields and the highest GHG emissions per liter of ethanol. The results were highly sensitive to the ash and water content of the biomass, indicating that biomass properties can significantly affect the environmental impact of the thermochemical ethanol conversion process.


Biofuel; Thermochemical; Gasification; Ethanol; LCA; GHG; Cellulose

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