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Economics of cellulosic ethanol production in a thermochemical pathway for softwood, hardwood, corn stover and switchgrass

Gonzalez, R., Daystar, J., Jett, M., Treasure, T., Jameel, H., Venditti, R., Phillips, R.
Fuel processing technology 2012 v.94 no.1 pp. 113-122
Eucalyptus, Panicum virgatum, Pinus taeda, bioethanol, biomass, biorefining, corn stover, economic analysis, economic investment, ethanol, ethanol production, feedstocks, gasification, hardwood, prices, softwood, water content, yields
The economics of producing cellulosic ethanol using loblolly pine, natural mixed hardwood, Eucalyptus, corn stover, and switchgrass as feedstocks was simulated in Aspen Plus using the thermochemical process via indirect gasification and mixed alcohol synthesis developed by NREL. Outputs from the simulation were linked to an economic analysis spreadsheet to estimate NPV, IRR, payback and to run further sensitivity analysis of the different combinations of feedstocks. Results indicate that forest-based feedstocks including loblolly pine, natural hardwood and eucalyptus may present more attractive financial returns when compared to switchgrass and corn stover, mainly due to their composition (%C, %H, %ash) and alcohol yield. Simulated alcohol yields from forest-based feedstock were significantly higher than from switchgrass and corn stover. Simulations run with switchgrass and corn stover, also demonstrated greater sensitivity to changes in ethanol price, alcohol yield, capital investment and biomass costs. Furthermore, moisture content of receiving feedstocks greatly affected the economics of the biorefinery. A difference of −10% in the moisture content of the receiving feedstock affected the NPV of the simulated project by +25% (with respect to central NPV of ~$192million).