The NREL Biochemical and Thermochemical Ethanol Conversion Processes: Financial and Environmental Analysis Comparison

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J. S. Daystar, T. Treasure, R. Gonzalez, C. Reeb, R. Venditti, and S. Kelley, “The NREL Biochemical and Thermochemical Ethanol Conversion Processes: Financial and Environmental Analysis Comparison,” BioResources; Vol 10, No 3 (2015), 2015.

Type Journal Article
Author Jesse Sky Daystar
Author Trevor Treasure
Author Ronalds Gonzalez
Author Carter Reeb
Author Richard Venditti
Author Steve Kelley
Publication BioResources; Vol 10, No 3 (2015)
Date 2015
Abstract The financial and environmental performance of the National Renewable Energy Lab’s (NREL) thermochemical and biochemical biofuel conversion processes are examined herein with pine, eucalyptus, unmanaged hardwood, switchgrass, and sweet sorghum. The environmental impacts of the process scenarios were determined by quantifying greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and TRACI impacts. Integrated financial and environmental performance metrics were introduced and used to examine the biofuel production scenarios. The thermochemical and biochemical conversion processes produced the highest financial performance and lowest environmental impacts when paired with pine and sweet sorghum, respectively. The high ash content of switchgrass and high lignin content of loblolly pine lowered conversion yields, resulting in the highest environmental impacts and lowest financial performance for the thermochemical and biochemical conversion processes, respectively. Biofuel produced using the thermochemical conversion process resulted in lower TRACI single score impacts and somewhat lower GHG emissions per megajoule (MJ) of fuel than using the biochemical conversion pathway. The cost of carbon mitigation resulting from biofuel production and corresponding government subsidies was determined to be higher than the expected market carbon price. In some scenarios, the cost of carbon mitigation was several times higher than the market carbon price, indicating that there may be other more cost-effective methods of reducing carbon emissions.



  • Air pollution
  • Biochemical
  • Biofuel
  • Conversion technology
  • Environmental Impacts
  • Ethanol
  • Fossil fuel
  • Greenhouse gases
  • Life Cycle Assessment
  • Thermochemical

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