Lignocellulosic bioethanol technologies exhibit significant capacity for performance improvement across the supply chain through the development of high-yielding energy crops, integrated pretreatment, hydrolysis and fermentation technologies and the application of dedicated ethanol pipelines. The impact of such developments on cost-optimal plant location, scale and process composition within multiple plant infrastructures is poorly understood. A combined production and logistics model has been developed to investigate cost-optimal system configurations for a range of technological, system scale, biomass supply and ethanol demand distribution scenarios specific to European agricultural land and population densities.
Ethanol production costs for current technologies decrease significantly from $0.71 to $0.58 per litre with increasing economies of scale, up to a maximum single-plant capacity of 550 × 106 l year-1. The development of high-yielding energy crops and consolidated bio-processing realises significant cost reductions, with production costs ranging from $0.33 to $0.36 per litre. Increased feedstock yields result in systems of eight fully integrated plants operating within a 500 × 500 km2 region, each producing between 1.24 and 2.38 × 109 l year-1 of pure ethanol. A limited potential for distributed processing and centralised purification systems is identified, requiring developments in modular, ambient pretreatment and fermentation technologies and the pipeline transport of pure ethanol.
The conceptual and mathematical modelling framework developed provides a valuable tool for the assessment and optimisation of the lignocellulosic bioethanol supply chain. In particular, it can provide insight into the optimal configuration of multiple plant systems. This information is invaluable in ensuring (near-)cost-optimal strategic development within the sector at the regional and national scale. The framework is flexible and can thus accommodate a range of processing tasks, logistical modes, by-product markets and impacting policy constraints. Significant scope for application to real-world case studies through dynamic extensions of the formulation has been identified.