Sustainability of the transition to bio-ethanol: An exploratory study

Large-scale production of bio-ethanol, a biofuel with similar properties to petrol, is already feasible with sugar-containing crops and cereal products as a feedstock, and Royal Nedalco is now researching alternative routes from woody biomass. Expectations are that this new technology will reduce ethanol production costs substantially as well as overall environmental impact.

CE was commissioned by Royal Nedalco to assess the performance of current and future ethanol production against a set of sustainability criteria, including the extent to which greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by switching to woody feedstocks. While CO2 emissions are reduced by about 40-60% with current feedstocks, this figure may be as high as 80-90% for future ethanol routes. Because production costs are also expected to decline, this will have a major positive impact on the cost effectiveness of ethanol as a biofuel (i.e. the cost of avoiding one tonne CO2 emission). If the costs and technology develop as assumed in this study, the ultimate cost effectiveness may fall to about 20 to 40 €/tonne CO2-eq.