Main content area

Assessing butanol from integrated forest biorefinery: A combined techno-economic and life cycle approach

Levasseur, Annie, Bahn, Olivier, Beloin-Saint-Pierre, Didier, Marinova, Mariya, Vaillancourt, Kathleen
Applied energy 2017 v.198 pp. 440-452
alternative fuels, biofuels, biorefining, butanol, carbon footprint, climate change, dissolving pulp, energy efficiency, environmental impact, environmental policy, feedstocks, forests, gasoline, heat, income, life cycle assessment, markets, models, process design, profitability, pulp and paper mills, sustainable forestry, transportation, Canada
The life cycle assessment (LCA) methodology is increasingly used to ensure environmental sustainability of emerging biofuels. However, LCA studies are usually not performed at the process design stage, when it would be more efficient to identify and control environmental aspects. Moreover, the long-term economic profitability of biofuels depends on future energy and climate policies, which are usually not considered in techno-economic feasibility studies. This paper combines the LCA method and a TIMES energy system model, to offer a simultaneous assessment of potential environmental impacts and market penetration under different energy and climate policy scenarios of emerging energy pathways. This combined approach is applied to butanol produced from pre-hydrolysate in a Canadian Kraft dissolving pulp mill. Indeed, the integration of biorefinery processes into existing pulp and paper mills has been identified as a promising avenue to maintain mills activities. It could increase and diversify revenues, keep the forestry-based communities alive, and potentially mitigate climate change by replacing fossil-based fuels or products. Results show that (1) the energy efficiency of the butanol production process is a critical aspect to consider in future design and implementation steps in order to make butanol a competitive fuel among all other alternative fuels, (2) with a 50% internal heat recovery, butanol has a role to play in the transportation sector under climate policy scenarios, and may have a lower carbon footprint than gasoline as estimated by a 2010 US EPA study, and (3) higher supply costs for feedstock might undermine the competitiveness of butanol on the medium term (2030), but probably not on the long-term (2050). This combination of assessment methods is replicable to analyze any types of emerging energy pathways in Canada and in other countries, and to help designing more sustainable forest biorefinery processes in other countries with important forest sector.