What is the result from comparing life cycle costs for forest-based and fossil-based value chains for producing fuels for use in different transport segments in road traffic? The primary aim of the newly finished project Sustainable transportation fuels – a techno-economic Well-to-Wheel analysis, carried out within the Swedish Energy Agency and f3 collaborative research program Renewable transportation fuels and systems, has been to estimate the total well-to-wheel (WtW) cost for forest-based value chains with different energy carriers (biofuels and electricity) for use in different transport segments in road traffic and compare these with fossil alternatives in a Swedish context. The comparison, based on the cost for the end user, illustrates how different alternative value chains can compete with fossil-based value chains and under which conditions there is potential for profitable biofuel production. In order to achieve a broader comparison of the studied value chains, estimates of total energy efficiency and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from a WtW perspective were also included.

Three different transport segments were considered – a car, a distribution truck and a long-distance truck. Based on performance in earlier studies, four different biofuel concepts were chosen, all inte­grated into existing industry. These were:

  • SNG produced via gasification integrated with a pulp and paper mill.
  • Methanol produced via gasification of black liquor integrated with a pulp and paper mill.
  • Ethanol produced via hydrolysis and fermentation, with biogas as a by-product, inte­grated with a district heating system.
  • Renewable diesel and petrol produced by first making a bio-oil from extracted lignin at a chemical pulp and paper mill and then upgrade the bio-oil at an oil refinery.

In addition, electricity from forest biomass was also included in the study and it was assumed to be produced in a combined heat and power plant connected to a district heating system.

The results show that when policy instruments are excluded, none of the studied alternatives can compete with the fossil alternatives. However, for the truck segments, methanol and ethanol give close to the same total cost of ownership as for the fossil alternative. However, when policy instruments are included, nearly all bio-based alternatives show competitive costs compared to the fossil reference chains, with a significant potential margin for producers and distributors of biofuels. In general, the results are relatively robust considering fluctuations within different parameters, e.g. biomass price, crude oil price etc.

In summary, all the studied value chains have potential to be profitable and contribute to significant reductions in GHG emissions. The study shows how a systems perspective enhances the understanding of under which circumstances bio-based and fossil-based fuel alternatives can compete.

The project has been led by Karin Pettersson, RISE, with primary participants from Sweco. For more details and results, visit the project site linked above.

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