Techno-economics for conversion of lignocellulosic biomass to ethanol by indirect gasification and mixed alcohol synthesis



This techno-economic study investigates the production of ethanol and a higher alcohols coproduct by conversion of lignocelluosic biomass to syngas via indirect gasification followed by gas-to-liquids synthesis over a precommercial heterogeneous catalyst. The design specifies a processing capacity of 2,205 dry U.S. tons (2,000 dry metric tonnes) of woody biomass per day and incorporates 2012 research targets from NREL and other sources for technologies that will facilitate the future commercial production of cost-competitive ethanol. Major processes include indirect steam gasification, syngas cleanup, and catalytic synthesis of mixed alcohols, and ancillary processes include feed handling and drying, alcohol separation, steam and power generation, cooling water, and other operations support utilities. The design and analysis is based on research at NREL, other national laboratories, and The Dow Chemical Company, and it incorporates commercial technologies, process modeling using Aspen Plus software, equipment cost estimation, and discounted cash flow analysis. The design considers the economics of ethanol production assuming successful achievement of internal research targets and nth-plant costs and financing. The design yields 83.8 gallons of ethanol and 10.1 gallons of higher-molecular-weight alcohols per U.S. ton of biomass feedstock. A rigorous sensitivity analysis captures uncertainties in costs and plant performance. © 2012 American Institute of Chemical Engineers Environ Prog, 2012