2nd Generation Bioethanol – Why is it the better choice?


As there is a growing demand – and neccesity – for biofuels, we often find ourselves facing numerous questions. What are biofuels? How are they made and is it worth investing into feedstocks, like energy crops? If yes, what type of energy crop is the most appropriate? Bioethanol is a liquid type of biofuel of two different kinds: 1st generation and 2nd generation bioethanol. Europe is the world’s third-largest producer of bioethanol – an important renewable fuel and energy source. Most stems from crops – but different kinds. So, how do they differ from each other? Is one better than the other? Continue reading and find out!

What is the difference between 1st and 2nd generation bioethanol?

By substituting fossil fuels in transport, power generation, the chemical industry and elsewhere, bioethanol could  largely contribute to the European Union reaching its greenhouse gas emission (GHG) reduction goals. The bioethanol sector has been growing rapidly over recent years.

Nowadays, Europe boasts about 8.8 billion litres of installed production capacity with a market value of close to €8 billion, which only the US and Brazil exceed.

However, most bioethanol production takes place in first generation (1G) plants. First generation bioethanol is produced from edible crops, such as sugarcane (Brazil), corn (USA) and rapeseed (Germany), just to mention a few. Sadly, however, 1st generation bioethanol production has several drawbacks:

  1. The production leads to a higher price of food due to competition with food crops

  2. Provides only limited GHG reduction benefits

  3. Does not meet with the claimed environmental benefit, since the biomass production for 1st generation bioethanol is not sustainable

  4. It speeds up deforestation

  5. The irrigation competes for water, which is a scarcity in many regions

So why is using food crops (such as corn) for 1G bioethanol production unsustainable? Let’s put it this way: increased demand for food crops will lead to their increasement of price. As certain food crops are the pillars of the food chain (remember, livestock is fed with huge amounts of corn, in order to satisfy the demand for meat), the price of other food will go up as well – eventually contributing to inflation.

Cellulose-based BIOETHANOL: Using Arundo donax

Furthermore, morally speaking, it is unacceptable that while 40.000 people die from hunger in every hour, cars in the west are run with fuels made from food.

Advanced or second generation (2G) bioethanol production happens using the lignocellulosic biomass of non-food crops or waste plant matter from forestry or agriculture. Second generation bioethanol production therefore has a higher potential to decrease greenhouse gas emissions. The development of second generation biofuels has seen a stimulus since the food versus fuel dilemma regarding the risk of diverting farmland or crops for biofuels production to the detriment of food supply.

Having established that 2nd generation bioethanol is more sustainable and eco-friendly, let’s see which non-food feedstock is the most appropriate for its production.



What crops are used for 2nd generation bioethanol?

As it was mentioned before, second generation bioethanol could be produced from non-food crops. One possible feedstock for this purpose is the perennial energy crop, Arundo donax (also known as giant reed).

There are several facts and arguments supporting giant reed as a feedstock for second generation bioethanol. For starters, it is a high yielding and rapidly growing species, so it provides a setady supply stream at the processing plant, avoiding this way expensive storage of large biomass volumes for several months between harvests.

The Methods of Producing Bioethanol from Arundo donax

In addition, the potential process yield of Arundo donax is 265 kg of ethanol per dry metric ton of raw material, which can be put into the following formula:

4 tons of Arundo = 1 ton of cellulose ethanol

1 tonne of Arundo = 330 liters of cellulose ethanol

To continue, giant reed is a highly tolerant plant with abilities to adapt to various and even extreme conditions (marginal lands, saline soil and even drought).

To compare with the above mentioned five points of drawbacks of using conventional crops for bioethanol production, here are five points of advantages when using Arundo donax:

  1. The price of Arundo’s biomass is low, since it is not in competition with food crops

  2. Due to its photosynthetic abilities, it largely contributes to GHG reduction

  3. Its production is sustainable and also requires low input

  4. It is not in competition with valuable lands for edible crops or forests either, since it can be planted in less favourable soils

  5. It does not need fresh water, irrigation can be carried out using wastewater, without seriously affecting the yield or the quality of the plant

If you found these arguments convincing enough, visit our website to know even more about Arundo donax, the energy crop with innumerable uses! If you wish to take advantage of this crop, send us a message at info@arundobioenergy.com to ask for a quote!

Biofuels: Cellulose for Bioethanol Production


IEA/OECD (2008). From 1st to 2nd generation biofuel technologies.Overview.

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