Economic value and environmental impact analysis of lignocellulosic ethanol production: assessment of different pretreatment processes

  • André Rodrigues Gurgel da Silva
  • Aristide Giuliano
  • Massimiliano Errico
  • Ben-Guang Rong
  • Diego BarlettaEmail author
Original Paper


Second-generation bioethanol represents an interesting alternative to liquid fuels in times of increased concerns over global warming and energy security. However, the recalcitrant structure of lignocellulosic biomass feedstock makes necessary a pretreatment process to increase the conversion of sugars. Diluted acid, liquid hot water, steam explosion, ammonia fiber explosion, and organosolv pretreatments are assessed using a combined economic value and environmental impact analysis under a full biorefinery setup in order to assess the best pretreatment process from a techno-economic-environmental point of view. Five process areas were identified within each process considered: pretreatment stage, conversion stage, product purification and separation stage, water treatment stage, and cogeneration stage. A process simulation software was used to consider material and energy balances of the biorefineries with different pretreatment processes and to optimize the separation and purification processes (e.g., distillation columns). For the considered biomass and scenarios, all processes resulted in positive gains in terms of economic feasibility and carbon dioxide emissions. In particular, diluted acid can be considered the best pretreatment process to produce lignocellulosic bioethanol thanks to the best techno-economic-environmental performances, with the largest economic and environmental margins of 39.2 M$/year and 83.9 kt CO2/year, respectively.

Graphical abstract


Bioethanol Pretreatment EVEI Techno-economic analysis Environmental impact 

List of symbols


Auxiliary raw materials inlet to the area k


Annualized capital cost for all the equipment present in area k ($/year)


Economic cost of the auxiliary material i for the area k ($/t)


Economic cost of plant utility i for the area k ($/t)


Economic cost of emissions/wastes i for the area k ($/t)


Environmental impacts associated with the material used for the construction of the process units in area k (−)


Cost of production ($/GJ)


Credit value on processing ($/GJ)


Environmental margin (tCO2/year)


Environmental impact cost (kgCO2/GJ)


Economic margin ($/year)


Main process streams to area k


Flow rate of auxiliary materials i inlet to area k (t/year)


Flow rate of utilities i inlet to area k (t/year)


Flow rate of emissions/wastes i outlet from area k (t/year)


Flow rate of the inlet process stream i to area k (GJ/year)


Flow rate of the outlet process stream i from area k (GJ/year)


End use emissions of the bioethanol (tCO2/GJ)


Environmental cost of auxiliary materials i inlet to area k (tCO2/t)


Environmental cost of plant utilities i inlet to area k (tCO2/t)


Environmental cost of emissions/wastes i outlet from area k (tCO2/t)


Equivalent CO2 emissions of existing product that will be displaced (tCO2/GJ)


Impact cost of production ($/GJ)


Lower heating value (J/kg)


Emissions and wastes outlet from the area k


Number of inlet process streams in the area k, excluding auxiliary and utilities streams inlet to the area k


Number of auxiliary streams inlet to area k


Number of utilities streams inlet to area k


Number of emissions/wastes outlet from area k


Number of outlet process streams, excluding emissions and waste streams outlet from the area k


Product streams from area k


Total economic cost of the area k ($/year)


Total environmental impacts of the area k ($/year)


Utilities inlet to the area k


Value on processing ($/GJ)


Economic allocation factor


Environmental allocation factor


Equivalency factor


Specific economic margin ($/GJ)


Specific impact savings (tCO2/GJ)



Ammonia fiber explosion


Chemical Engineering Plant Cost Index


Cogeneration section


Hydrolysis and fermentation section


Diluted acid


Economic values and environmental impact




Life cycle assessment


Liquid hot water


Pretreatment section


Steam explosion


Separation and purification section


Wastewater treatment section


Supplementary material

10098_2018_1663_MOESM1_ESM.docx (120 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 120 kb)


  1. Aden A, Foust T (2009) Technoeconomic analysis of the dilute sulfuric acid and enzymatic hydrolysis process for the conversion of corn stover to ethanol. Cellulose 16:535–545. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alvarado-Morales M, Terra J, Gernaey KV, Woodley JM, Gani R (2009) Biorefining: computer aided tools for sustainable design and analysis of bioethanol production. Chem Eng Res Des 87:1171–1183. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Álvarez del Castillo-Romo A, Morales-Rodriguez R, Román-Martínez A (2018) Multiobjective optimization for the socio-eco-efficient conversion of lignocellulosic biomass to biofuels and bioproducts. Clean Technol Environ Policy 20:603–620. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Alvira P, Tomás-Pejó E, Ballesteros M, Negro MJ (2010) Pretreatment technologies for an efficient bioethanol production process based on enzymatic hydrolysis: a review. Bioresour Technol 101:4851–4861. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Britsh Petroleum (2016) BP statistical review of world energy. Britsh Petroleum, LondonGoogle Scholar
  6. Brodeur G, Yau E, Badal K, Collier J, Ramachandran KB, Ramakrishnan S (2011) Chemical and physicochemical pretreatment of lignocellulosic biomass: a review. Enzyme Res 2011:1–17. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Capolupo L, Faraco V (2016) Green methods of lignocellulose pretreatment for biorefinery development. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 100:9451–9467. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Carneiro P, Ferreira P (2012) The economic, environmental and strategic value of biomass. Renew Energy 44:17–22. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cherubini F, Ulgiati S (2010) Crop residues as raw materials for biorefinery systems: a LCA case study. Appl Energy 87:47–57. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Chow J (2003) Energy resources and global development. Science 302:1528–1531. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Conde-Mejía C, Jiménez-Gutiérrez A, El-Halwagi M (2012) A comparison of pretreatment methods for bioethanol production from lignocellulosic materials. Process Saf Environ Prot 90:189–202. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. da Silva ARG, Torres Ortega CE, Rong B-G (2016) Techno-economic analysis of different pretreatment processes for lignocellulosic-based bioethanol production. Bioresour Technol 218:561–570. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. da Silva ARG, Errico M, Rong B-G (2017) Evaluation of organosolv pretreatment for bioethanol production from lignocellulosic biomass: solvent recycle and process integration. Biorefinery, Biomass Convers. Google Scholar
  14. da Silva ARG, Errico M, Rong B-G (2018) Techno-economic analysis of organosolv pretreatment process from lignocellulosic biomass. Clean Technol Environ Policy 20:1401–1412. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Elishav O, Lewin DR, Shter GE, Grader GS (2017) The nitrogen economy: economic feasibility analysis of nitrogen-based fuels as energy carriers. Appl Energy 185:183–188. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Galanopoulos C, Odierna A, Barletta D, Zondervan E (2017) Design of a wheat straw supply chain network in Lower Saxony, Germany through optimization. Comput Aided Chem Eng 40:871–876. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Galanopoulos C, Barletta D, Zondervan E (2018) A decision support platform for a bio-based supply chain: application to the region of Lower Saxony and Bremen. Comput Chem Eng 115:233–242. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. García A, González Alriols M, Wukovits W, Friedl A, Labidi J (2014) Assessment of biorefinery process intensification by ultrasound technology. Clean Technol Environ Policy 16:1403–1410. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Giuliano A, Poletto M, Barletta D (2015) Process design of a multi-product lignocellulosic biorefinery. Comput Aided Chem Eng 37:1313–1318. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Giuliano A, Cerulli R, Poletto M, Raiconi G, Barletta D (2016a) Process pathways optimization for a lignocellulosic biorefinery producing levulinic acid, succinic acid, and ethanol. Ind Eng Chem Res 55:10699–10717. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Giuliano A, Poletto M, Barletta D (2016b) Process optimization of a multi-product biorefinery: the effect of biomass seasonality. Chem Eng Res Des 107:236–252. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Giuliano A, Barletta D, De Bari I, Poletto M (2018a) Techno-economic assessment of a lignocellulosic biorefinery co-producing ethanol and xylitol or furfural. Comput Aided Chem Eng. Google Scholar
  23. Giuliano A, Poletto M, Barletta D (2018b) Pure hydrogen co-production by membrane technology in an IGCC power plant with carbon capture. Int J Hydrogen Energy 43:19279–19292. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Haberl H, Erb KH, Krausmann F, Bondeau A, Lauk C, Müller C, Plutzar C, Steinberger JK (2011) Global bioenergy potentials from agricultural land in 2050: sensitivity to climate change, diets and yields. Biomass Bioenergy 35:4753–4769. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hallac BB, Sannigrahi P, Pu Y, Ray M, Murphy RJ, Ragauskas AJ (2010) Effect of ethanol organosolv pretreatment on enzymatic hydrolysis of Buddleja davidii stem biomass. Ind Eng Chem Res 49:1467–1472. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hamelinck CN, Van Hooijdonk G, Faaij APC (2005) Ethanol from lignocellulosic biomass: techno-economic performance in short-, middle- and long-term. Biomass Bioenerg 28:384–410. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Humbird D, Davis R, Tao L, Kinchin C, Hsu D, Aden A (2011) Process design and economics for biochemical conversion of lignocellulosic biomass to ethanol: dilute-acid pretreatment and enzymatic hydrolysis of corn stover. Technical Report NREL/TP-5100-47764 May 2011Google Scholar
  28. IPCC (2014) Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Core Writing Team, R.K. Pachauri and L.A. Meyer.
  29. Joelsson E, Erdei B, Galbe M, Wallberg O (2016) Techno-economic evaluation of integrated first- and second-generation ethanol production from grain and straw. Biotechnol Biofuels 9:1–16. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Karlsson H, Barjesson P, Hansson P, Ahlgren S (2014) Ethanol production in biorefineries using lignocellulosic feedstock-GHG performance, energy balance and implications of life cycle calculation methodology. J Clean Prod 83:420–427. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Luo L, van der Voet E, Huppes G (2010) Biorefining of lignocellulosic feedstock—Technical, economic and environmental considerations. Bioresour Technol 101:5023–5032. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Martinez Hernandez E, Ng KS (2018) Design of biorefinery systems for conversion of corn stover into biofuels using a biorefinery engineering framework. Clean Technol Environ Policy 20:1501–1514. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Martinez-Hernandez E, Campbell G, Sadhukhan J (2013) Economic value and environmental impact (EVEI) analysis of biorefinery systems. Chem Eng Res Des 91:1418–1426. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Martinez-Hernandez E, Campbell GM, Sadhukhan J (2014) Economic and environmental impact marginal analysis of biorefinery products for policy targets. J Clean Prod. Google Scholar
  35. Menon V, Rao M (2012) Trends in bioconversion of lignocellulose: biofuels, platform chemicals & biorefinery concept. Prog Energy Combust Sci 38:522–550. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Mishra GS, Mitra A, Banerjee R, Ghangrekar MM (2014) Comparative pretreatment method for efficient enzymatic hydrolysis of Salvinia cucullata and sewage treatment in ponds containing this biomass. Clean Technol Environ Policy 16:1787–1794. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Mood SH, Golfeshan AH, Tabatabaei M, Jouzani GS, Najafi GH, Gholami M, Ardjmand M (2013) Lignocellulosic biomass to bioethanol, a comprehensive review with a focus on pretreatment. Renew Sustain Energy Rev 27:77–93. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Moreno J, Dufour J (2015) Life cycle assessment of lignocellusosic bioethanol: environmental impacts and energy balance. Renew Sustain Energy Rev 42:1349–1361. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Mosier N, Wyman C, Dale B, Elander R, Lee YY, Holtzapple M, Ladisch M (2005a) Features of promising technologies for pretreatment of lignocellulosic biomass. Bioresour Technol 96:673–686. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Mosier NS, Hendrickson R, Brewer M, Ho N, Sedlak M, Dreshel R, Welch G, Dien BS, Aden A, Ladisch MR (2005b) Industrial scale-up of pH-controlled liquid hot water pretreatment of corn fiber for fuel ethanol production. Appl Biochem Biotechnol 125:77–97. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Mupondwa E, Li X, Tabil L (2018) Integrated bioethanol production from triticale grain and lignocellulosic straw in Western Canada. Ind Crops Prod 117:75–87. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Nakagame S, Chandra RP, Saddler JN (2010) The effect of isolated lignins, obtained from a range of pretreated lignocellulosic substrates, on enzymatic hydrolysis. Biotechnol Bioeng 105:871–879. Google Scholar
  43. Palomo-Briones R, López-Gutiérrez I, Islas-Lugo F, Galindo-Hernández KL, Munguía-Aguilar D, Rincón-Pérez JA, Cortés-Carmona MÁ, Alatriste-Mondragón F, Razo-Flores E (2018) Agave bagasse biorefinery: processing and perspectives. Clean Technol Environ Policy 20:1423–1441. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Pan X, Xie D, Gilkes N, Gregg DJ, Saddler JN (2005) Strategies to enhance the enzymatic hydrolysis of pretreated softwood with high residual lignin content. Appl Biochem Biotechnol 124:1069–1080. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Pourbafrani M, McKechnie J, Shen T, Saville BA, Maclean HL (2014) Impacts of pre-treatment technologies and co-products on greenhouse gas emissions and energy use of lignocellulosic ethanol production. J Clean Prod 78:104–111. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Sadhukhan J, Ng KS, Hernandez EM (2014) Combined economic value and environmental impact (EVEI) analysis. Biorefineries Chem Process. Google Scholar
  47. Sammons NE, Yuan W, Eden MR, Aksoy B, Cullinan HT (2008) Optimal biorefinery product allocation by combining process and economic modeling. Chem Eng Res Des 86:800–808. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Spatari S, Zhang Y, Maclean HL (2005) Life cycle assessment of switchgrass- and corn automobiles. Environ Sci Technol 39:9750–9758. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Sun Y, Cheng J (2002) Hydrolysis of lignocellulosic materials for ethanol production: a review q. Bioresour Technol 83:1–11. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Takkellapati S, Li T, Gonzalez MA (2018) An overview of biorefinery-derived platform chemicals from a cellulose and hemicellulose biorefinery. Clean Technol Environ Policy 20:1615–1630. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Tang CM, Chin MWS, Lim KM, Mun YS, Ng RTL, Tay DHS, Ng DKS (2013) Systematic approach for conceptual design of an integrated biorefinery with uncertainties. Clean Tech Env Policy 15:783–799. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Tao L, Aden A, Elander RT, Pallapolu VR, Lee YY, Garlock RJ, Balan V, Dale BE, Kim Y, Mosier NS, Ladisch MR, Falls M, Holtzapple MT, Sierra R, Shi J, Ebrik MA, Redmond T, Yang B, Wyman CE, Hames B, Thomas S, Warner RE (2011) Process and technoeconomic analysis of leading pretreatment technologies for lignocellulosic ethanol production using switchgrass. Bioresour Technol 102:11105–11114. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Towler G, Sinnott R (2008) Chemical engineering design—principles, practice and economics of plant and process design. Butterworth-Heinemann, Burlington, MAGoogle Scholar
  54. Uihlein A, Schebek L (2009) Environmental impacts of a lignocellulose feedstock biorefinery system: an assessment. Biomass Bioenerg 33:793–802. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2002) Greenhouse gases and global warming potential values. Environ Prot 1–16Google Scholar
  56. Yang B, Wyman CE (2008) Pretreatment: the key to unlocking low-cost cellulosic ethanol. Biofuels. Bioprod Biorefining 2:26–40. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Zimbardi F, Ricci E, Braccio G (2002) Technoeconomic study on steam explosion application in biomass processing. Appl Biochem Biotechnol 98–100:89–99. CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Chemical Engineering, Biotechnology and Environmental TechnologyUniversity of Southern DenmarkOdense MDenmark
  2. 2.Dipartimento di Ingegneria IndustrialeUniversità degli Studi di SalernoFiscianoItaly

Personalised recommendations