Cellulosic ethanol offers a low-emission, near-carbon-neutral solution. In many countries around the world, legislation already recognises the important role of advanced biofuels in decarbonising the transport sector.
In the EU, the revised Renewable Energy Directive (RED II) came into effect in December 2018. It established a binding renewable energy target of at least 32 % by 2030 and, more specifically, a target of 14 % renewables in the transport sector. RED II requires all EU Member States to be using 3.5 % advanced biofuels in transport by 2030 – an ambitious target.
Clariant is the company coordinating the EU-funded LIGNOFLAG project, which is working towards the commercialisation of its sunliquid® technology. This innovative and sustainable approach produces cellulosic ethanol from agricultural residues, such as cereal straw, corn stover, and sugar cane bagasse. Cellulosic ethanol can be used as an alternative to gasoline to power vehicles within today’s energy infrastructure.
LIGNOFLAG’s main objective is to build and operate a first-of-its-kind, commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol production plant in Podari, Romania.
‘Clariant aims to demonstrate that the commercial production of cellulosic ethanol on the basis of our sunliquid® technology is technically feasible, economically viable, and competitive,’ says project coordinator Markus Rarbach of Clariant in Germany.‘At full capacity, the plant will produce more than 50 000 tonnes of cellulosic ethanol annually. The agricultural residues will be sourced from local farmers, promoting local fuel production, creating green jobs, and stimulating economic growth in rural areas.’
Flagship power plant
Innovative features of Clariant’s sunliquid® technology include chemical-free pretreatment and the integrated production of feedstock and process-specific enzymes.
No fossil-based energy sources are required in the sunliquid® process as it obtains all of its energy from the combustion of agricultural residues, mainly lignin which remains after extracting the cellulose from the lignocellulose. The process is therefore energy self-sufficient.
As a result, the emission profile is much better than for conventional bioethanol production. Taking carbon capture into consideration, the greenhouse gas savings could reach up to around 120 %. In addition, the liquid co-product, vinasse, can be applied as a fertiliser for the crops used in the process.
Building the new plant will establish a new bio-based value chain for agricultural residues in the region. The plant will lay the foundation for the wider implementation of advanced biofuel production in Europe and for a more sustainable energy supply to the transport sector.
Local model, global impact
Projected on an EU level, whilst fulfilling the 3.5 % target set out in RED II, advanced biofuels can create tens of thousands of long-term jobs and provide additional revenues in excess of EUR 1 billion for farmers and small businesses.
In the south-western Romanian region alone, the sunliquid® flagship plant will create around 100 direct jobs linked to its operation, about 300 indirect jobs within the agricultural and logistics industry plus approximately 800 jobs associated with the plant’s construction.
LIGNOFLAG coordinator Clariant also licences its sunliquid® technology platform globally. So far, three licence agreements have been executed with industry players in China, Poland and Slovakia.