Such biorefineries have been touted as the successor to grain ethanol plants, but until now the technology has been considered too expensive to compete. Iowa State University researchers determined production costs are now similar for grain ethanol and second generation biofuels.
The researchers compared capital and operating costs of generating fuel from starch and cellulose-containing materials.
They found capital costs for 150-million-gallon gasoline equivalent capacity range from around $111 million for a conventional grain ethanol plant to $854 million for an advanced plant. But the difference in the final fuel cost was less severe, being $1.74 for grain ethanol when corn costs $3.00 per bushel and $1.80 for cellulosic biofuel when biomass costs $50 per ton.
"Although the costs of production are comparable for grain ethanol and cellulosic biofuels, the much higher capital costs of the cellulosic plants will be an impediment to their commercialization," said ISU graduate student Mark Wright, one of the paper’s authors.
The research appears in the journal Biofuels, Bioproducts & Biorefining.