Shifting from First Generation Biofuels to Second Generation Biofuels

second generation biofuels


Our world is changing day by day and we seem to realize how important it is to shift from fossil fuels to renewable ones. Water scarcity, hunger, farmer exploiton – just a few of the factors it is high time we thought about our future investments. 

The following article is based on a report and it presents some of the most important facts about second generation biofuels – their groups, technologies, investment and production costs.

About second generation biofuels

Second generation biofuels are expected to be superior to many first generation biofuels, mainly because of the following reasons: 

  • energy balances
  • greenhouse gas emission
  • competition for land, food, fibre and water 

Second geneation biofuels can be broadly grouped into those produced either biochemically or thermo-chemically, either using non-food crops, espcially from ligno-cellulosic feedstocks sourced from crop. The purpose is to convert the cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin polymers into ethanol, synthetic diesel ot other liquid fuels including  for aviation and marine purposes.

It is vital for the industry and consumers to accept that– from a business perspective – they need biofuels to perform in the future,when first generation biofuels are extended more and more to include second generation products – or even better, to replace them. Industry partners and consumers need to believe in the quality, value and neccesity of biomass derived products. 

To be acceptable, biofuel feedstocks must be sustainably produced in terms of agricultural practices, responsible and efficient use of water and free of exploitattion of landowners. For second generation they do not compete with food and fibre, and these biofuels could benefit the national economy of developing the country and also support the poorest people mainly in the rural or marginal areas

The source for second generation biofuels

Biomass is the most important renewable energy source today. Already in 2005, total combustible renewables and waste consumption was estimated at 1149 Mtoe, with around 94% of this being solid biomass or ligno-cellulose. Ligno-cellulosic biomass is an abundant and renewable feedstock,with about an annual worldwide production of 10-50 billion dry tonnes.

In the biochemical conversion process that relates to the concept of bio-refineries, lignin represents a potential valuable source of chemical feedstock. In ethanol plants it may be combusted to provide process heat and power. In the thermo-chemical route, all polymers, including lignin, are converted to synthesis gas. 

Growing energy crops, particularly perennial grasses, like giant reed (Arundo donax L.) are being considered specifically for the purposes of accumulating biomass. This plant is high yielding even when grown under extreme conditions (drought, saline or contaminated soils) and can be harvested over long seasons to provide a steady supply stream at the processing plant, thus avoiding costly storage of large biomass volumes for several months between harvests. 

Investing into second generation biofuels

The emergence of the first commercial bioethanol production plants utilising ligno-cellulosic raw materials has begun. Industrial pioneers include Royal Nedalco (the Netherlands), Iogen (Canada), Diversa/Celunol (USA), Abengoa (Spain) and the Broin & DuPont consortium (USA). The investment costs of a new second generation biofuel plant, at least in the early stage of developement for a medium scale plant producing around 50-150 Ml/Year is in the range of about 125-250 million USA dollars. The estimated  costs of ligno-cellulosic biofuel are wide ranging, partly depending on the feedstock chosen for the assesment. The approximate production costs of second generation bioethanol in the literature range from 0.60-1.30 $/litre. The potential for cost reductions is estimated to drive production costs down, possibly to as low as 0.25 and 0.35 $/litre. Other predictions on which targets are based converge by 2020 at around 0.30-0.40 $/litre.

second generation biofuels

Further breakthroughs in the biochemical or thermo-chemical routes will significantly lower the production costs and accelerate investment and deployment. Emphasis will need to be given to aviation, marine and heavy vehicle applications. After 2020 or thereabouts, second generation biofuels could become a much more significant player in global biofuels market characterised by a balance between first and second generation technologies. 

Policies designed to reward environmental performance and sustainability of biofuels, as well as to encourage provision of a more abundant and geograpchically extensive feedstock supply, could see second generation products begin to eclipse first generation alternatives in the medium to longer-term. 

To see how we contribute to second generation biofuels production, visit our website!

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