How can we evaluate future biorefinery concepts today?

The number of possible combinations of feedstock, feedstock pre-treatment, and downstream pro­cesses for large-scale production of different types of biofuel is substantial. Different production routes will obviously perform very differently with respect to profitability and carbon footprint. Furthermore, large-scale production of biofuels requires substantial strategic investment decisions, requiring a prospective assessment approach.

Evaluation of future biorefinery concepts using to­day’s conditions can be heavily misleading, and it is therefore essential that possible future condi­tions and related uncertainties are taken into account. A newly finished project within the f3 and Swedish Energy Agency collaborative research program Renewable transportation fuels and systems (samverkansprogrammet Förnybara drivmedel och system) has explored methodological choices and assumptions of Techno-Economic Assessment (TEA) and Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) meth­ods and tools used in four research groups in Sweden for assessing the long-term economic and carbon footprint performance of large future biorefinery concepts.

The project is titled Long-term sustainability evaluation of fossil free fuels production concepts and has been lead by Simon Harvey, Chalmers, with participants also from Lund University and Bio4Energy, through Luleå University of Technology.

Through an in-depth analysis of the methods and tools used in the participating groups, the project clearly establishes the need for increased collaboration and data exchange between biorefinery process developers, value chain modellers, TEA and LCA practitioners and large-scale energy and material system modellers. There is a potential strength of prospective TEA and LCA in combination with sce­narios describing possible future developments of the background energy system in which future biofuel production systems will operate, but some major challenges remain to be addressed.

Access the full report here.