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Survey of Biomass Resource Assessments and Assessment ... - NREL

Survey of Biomass Resource Assessments and Assessment ... - NREL

Biomass

Biomass Resources for Liquid Transportation Fuels During the past few years, there has been an increased interest in biomass resources as a feedstock for transportation fuels production. These fuels can be produced from all biomass resources listed earlier; however, the conversion technologies are at different points in their development. First-generation feedstocks refer to currently available biomass resources converted to biofuels via well-established technologies. For ethanol production, these include starches from grains (cereals and feed) and tubers (cassava and sweet potatoes), sugars from crops (such as sugar beets, sugar cane, and sweet sorghum), and from food-processing byproducts (molasses, cheese whey, and beverage waste). First-generation biodiesel (Fatty acid methyl ester of FAME) feedstocks include vegetable oil (such as soybean, rapeseed, and palm oil), used cooking oil, and animal fat (tallow, cat fish oil, etc.). Second-generation feedstocks refer to biomass resources either available, but not used for biofuels production at a commercial level; or resources currently not available, but proven (through R&D activities) to have potential for biofuels production. For ethanol production, these include lignocellulosic material, such as crop and forest residues, municipal solid waste (MSW), and dedicated energy crops. The structural complexity of lignocellulosic biomass is what makes this feedstock a challenge to break down into simple sugars that can be converted to ethanol. Most plant matter consists of three key polymers: cellulose (35 to 50%), hemicellulose (20 to 35%), and lignin (10 to 25%). These polymers are assembled into a complex, interconnected matrix within plant cell walls. Cellulose and hemicellulose are carbohydrates that can be broken down into fermentable sugars. Lignin is not a carbohydrate and cannot be converted into ethanol. The technical challenge is associated with separating and breaking down these different polymers. Significant R&D efforts are under way in many APEC economies to advance this technology and use abundant lignocellulosic biomass. Lignocellulosic resources can also be catalytically processed into alcohols and Fischer Tropsch hydrocarbons via gasification to syngas, a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. Second-generation feedstocks for biodiesel production include oils from non-edible plants, such as jatropha and pongam. More R&D is needed to better understand these plants’ biofuel potential, including their characteristics, cultivation, socio-economic, and environmental benefits. Another advanced biodiesel feedstock is microalgae, which has oil content considerably higher 5

than that of oil-palm or rapeseed. However, significant technical and economic barriers need to be overcome to finish the laboratory phase, test the conversion process, develop and commercialize biodiesel from algae. Biofuels yield per unit of land is an important consideration when choosing appropriate feedstock and making decisions for production expansion. APEC economies in the tropical biome have the advantage of growing crops with significant solar energy and rainfall input, yielding the highest biofuels per land unit compared with those in the temperate biome and its seasonal limitations. Two tropical crops, sugar cane and oil-palm, which can be used to produce ethanol and biodiesel respectively, have the highest yield per hectare among the first-generation feedstocks (Figures 1-2). APEC economies are among the world’s leading producers of these crops. China, Mexico, Thailand, Australia, and Indonesia are well established sugar cane producers and among the top 10 suppliers in the world. Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand are the world’s largest palm oil producers. The Philippines are the world’s largest coconut oil producer. Given the favorable climate conditions and significant labor availability, Southeast Asian economies have announced feedstock production expansion and large-scale biofuels programs. Liters/ha 7,000 6,000 5,000 4,000 3,000 2,000 1,000 0 Sugar cane (Brazil) Average Ethanol Production per Hectare of Farmland Sw eet Sorghum (China) Sugar beet (EU) Tubers (China) Crop Source: Worldwatch Institute, 2007; USDA, GAIN Biofuels Report for China, 2007 Corn (USA) Wheat (EU) Barley (EU) Figure 1. Average Ethanol Production per Hectare of Farmland Yield by Crop 6

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