Environmental and financial implications of ethanol as a bioethylene feedstock versus as a transportation fuel
McKechnie, Jon and Pourbafrani, Mohammad and Saville, Bradley A. and MacLean, Heather L. (2015) Environmental and financial implications of ethanol as a bioethylene feedstock versus as a transportation fuel. Environmental Research Letters, 10 (12). p. 124018. ISSN 1748-9326
Official URL: http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/10/12/124018/meta;jsessionid=7CD6C4DD87467543EE74CD06F7FA2A5C.c1.iopscience.cld.iop.org
Bulk chemicals production from biomass may compete with biofuels for low-cost and sustainable biomass sources. Understanding how alternative uses of biomass compare in terms of financial and environmental parameters is therefore necessary to help ensure that efficient uses of resources are encouraged by policy and undertaken by industry. In this paper, we compare the environmental and financial performance of using ethanol as a feedstock for bioethylene production or as a transport fuel in the US life cycle-based models are developed to isolate the relative impacts of these two ethanol uses and generate results that are applicable irrespective of ethanol production pathway. Ethanol use as a feedstock for bioethylene production or as a transport fuel leads to comparable greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and fossil energy consumption reductions relative to their counterparts produced from fossil sources. By displacing gasoline use in vehicles, use of ethanol as a transport fuel is six times more effective in reducing petroleum energy use on a life cycle basis. In contrast, bioethylene predominately avoids consumption of natural gas. Considering 2013 US ethanol and ethylene market prices, our analysis shows that bioethylene is financially viable only if significant price premiums are realized over conventional ethylene, from 35% to 65% depending on the scale of bioethylene production considered (80 000 t yr−1 to 240 000 t yr−1). Ethanol use as a transportation fuel is therefore the preferred pathway considering financial,GHGemissions, and petroleum energy use metrics, although bioethylene production could have strategic value if demand-side limitations of ethanol transport fuel markets are reached.
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