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Reducing life cycle greenhouse gas emissions of corn ethanol by integrating biomass to produce heat and power at ethanol plants

Kaliyan, Nalladurai, Morey, R. Vance, Tiffany, Douglas G.
Biomass and bioenergy 2011 v.35 no.3 pp. 1103-1113
biofuels, biomass, carbon dioxide, coal, coproducts, corn, corn stover, distillers grains, electricity, ethanol, fermentation, gasification, gasoline, greenhouse gas emissions, greenhouse gases, heat, land use change, life cycle assessment, natural gas, syrups, United States
A life-cycle assessment (LCA) of corn ethanol was conducted to determine the reduction in the life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for corn ethanol compared to gasoline by integrating biomass fuels to replace fossil fuels (natural gas and grid electricity) in a U.S. Midwest dry-grind corn ethanol plant producing 0.19 hm³ y⁻¹ of denatured ethanol. The biomass fuels studied are corn stover and ethanol co-products [dried distillers grains with solubles (DDGS), and syrup (solubles portion of DDGS)]. The biomass conversion technologies/systems considered are process heat (PH) only systems, combined heat and power (CHP) systems, and biomass integrated gasification combined cycle (BIGCC) systems. The life-cycle GHG emission reduction for corn ethanol compared to gasoline is 38.9% for PH with natural gas, 57.7% for PH with corn stover, 79.1% for CHP with corn stover, 78.2% for IGCC with natural gas, 119.0% for BIGCC with corn stover, and 111.4% for BIGCC with syrup and stover. These GHG emission estimates do not include indirect land use change effects. GHG emission reductions for CHP, IGCC, and BIGCC include power sent to the grid which replaces electricity from coal. BIGCC results in greater reductions in GHG emissions than IGCC with natural gas because biomass is substituted for fossil fuels. In addition, underground sequestration of CO₂ gas from the ethanol plant’s fermentation tank could further reduce the life-cycle GHG emission for corn ethanol by 32% compared to gasoline.