, Volume 57-58, Issue 1, pp 711-727

A techno-economic assessment of the pretreatment and fractionation steps of a biomass-to-ethanol process

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It is generally recognized that the front-end (pretreatment, fractionation, enzymatic hydrolysis) steps of a lignocellulose-to-ethanol process are both technologically immature and represent a large component (∼60%) of the total product cost. In the past, we have tried to itemize the process steps and equipment for a complete plant. It was evident that, owing to the complexity and interrelated nature of this process, it was difficult to determine the influence of even minor changes to the process on the overall production cost of the product. We had originally developed a techno-economic model, based on spreadsheets, as a computational and assessment tool. However, our more recent work, which has looked at various process options such as hardwood vs softwoods, SO2 pretreatment of softwoods, and enzyme recycling, indicated that the model required greater flexibility if it was to assess a “generic” biomass-to-ethanol process. The model is currently being modified to address both the flexibility issues, through the incorporation of flowsheeting concepts, as well as including the most recent work on the various process options. In this article, we have described some of the pretreatment and fractionation issues that are being addressed in the updated model.