Economic performance and GHG emission intensity of sugarcane- and eucalyptus-derived biofuels and biobased chemicals in Brazil

Jan G.G. Jonker, Martin Junginger, John Posada, Carla S. Ioiart, Andre P.C. Faaij, Floor van der Hilst*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)
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Biomass feedstock can be used for the production of biofuels or biobased chemicals to reduce anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Earlier studies about the techno-economic performance of biofuel or biobased chemical production varied in biomass feedstock, conversion process, and other techno-economic assumptions. This made a fair comparison between different industrial processing pathways difficult. The aim of this study is to quantify uniformly the factory-gate production costs and the GHG emission intensity of biobased ethanol, ethylene, 1,3-propanediol (PDO), and succinic acid, and to compare them with each other and their respective fossil equivalent products. Brazilian sugarcane and eucalyptus are used as biomass feedstock in this study. A uniform approach is applied to determine the production costs and GHG emission intensity of biobased products, taking into account feedstock supply, biobased product yield, capital investment, energy, labor, maintenance, and processing inputs. Economic performance and net avoided GHG emissions of biobased chemicals depend on various uncertain factors, so this study pays particular attention to uncertainty by means of a Monte Carlo analysis. A sensitivity analysis is also performed. As there is uncertainty associated with the parameters used for biobased product yield, feedstock cost, fixed capital investment, industrial scale, and energy costs, the results are presented in ranges. The 60% confidence interval ranges of the biobased product production costs are 0.64–1.10 US$ kg −1 ethanol, 1.18–2.05 US$ kg −1 ethylene, 1.37–2.40 US$ kg −1 1,3-PDO, and 1.91–2.57 US$ kg −1 succinic acid. The cost ranges of all biobased products partly or completely overlap with the ranges of the production costs of the fossil equivalent products. The results show that sugarcane-based 1,3-PDO and to a lesser extent succinic acid have the highest potential benefit. The ranges of GHG emission reduction are 1.29–2.16, 3.37–4.12, 2.54–5.91, and 0.47–5.22 CO 2eq kg −1 biobased product for ethanol, ethylene, 1,3-PDO, and succinic acid respectively. Considering the potential GHG emission reduction and profit per hectare, the pathways using sugarcane score are generally better than eucalyptus feedstock due to the high yield of sugarcane in Brazil. Overall, it was not possible to choose a clear winner, (a) because the best performing biobased product strongly depends on the chosen metric, and (b) because of the large ranges found, especially for PDO and succinic acid, independent of the chosen metric. To quantify the performance better, more data are required regarding the biobased product yield, equipment costs, and energy consumption of biobased industrial pathways, but also about the production costs and GHG emission intensity of fossil-equivalent products.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)950-977
Number of pages28
JournalBiofuels, Bioproducts and Biorefining
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • biobased chemicals
  • biofuels
  • biorefinery
  • costs
  • eucalyptus
  • GHG emissions
  • petrochemical reference
  • sugarcane


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