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Our companion paper discussed the yield benefits achieved by integrating deacetylation, mechanical refining, and washing with low acid and low temperature pretreatment. To evaluate the impact of the modified process on the economic feasibility, a techno-economic analysis (TEA) was performed based on the experimental data presented in the companion paper.
The cost benefits of dilute acid pretreatment technology combined with the process alternatives of deacetylation, mechanical refining, and pretreated solids washing were evaluated using cost benefit analysis within a conceptual modeling framework. Control cases were pretreated at much lower acid loadings and temperatures than used those in the NREL 2011 design case, resulting in much lower annual ethanol production. Therefore, the minimum ethanol selling prices (MESP) of the control cases were $0.41-$0.77 higher than the $2.15/gallon MESP of the design case. This increment is highly dependent on the carbohydrate content in the corn stover. However, if pretreatment was employed with either deacetylation or mechanical refining, the MESPs were reduced by $0.23-$0.30/gallon. Combing both steps could lower the MESP further by $0.44~$0.54. Washing of the pretreated solids could also greatly improve the final ethanol yields. However, the large capital cost of the solid–liquid separation unit negatively influences the process economics. Finally, sensitivity analysis was performed to study the effect of the cost of the pretreatment reactor and the energy input for mechanical refining. A 50% cost reduction in the pretreatment reactor cost reduced the MESP of the entire conversion process by $0.11-$0.14/gallon, while a 10-fold increase in energy input for mechanical refining will increase the MESP by $0.07/gallon.
Deacetylation and mechanical refining process options combined with low acid, low severity pretreatments show improvements in ethanol yields and calculated MESP for cellulosic ethanol production.