BackgroundIonic liquid (IL) pretreatment could enable an economically viable route to produce biofuels by providing efficient means to extract sugars and lignin from lignocellulosic biomass. However, to realize this, novel IL-based processes need to be developed in order to minimize the overall production costs and accelerate commercial viability. In this study, two variants of IL-based processes are considered: one based on complete removal of the IL prior to hydrolysis using a water-wash (WW) step and the other based on a "one-pot" (OP) process that does not require IL removal prior to saccharification. Detailed techno-economic analysis (TEA) of these two routes was carried out to understand the cost drivers, economic potential (minimum ethanol selling price, MESP), and relative merits and challenges of each route.
ResultsAt high biomass loading (50%), both routes exhibited comparable economic performance with an MESP of $6.3/gal. With the possible advances identified (reduced water or acid/base consumption, improved conversion in pretreatment, and lignin valorization), the MESP could be reduced to around $3/gal ($3.2 in the WW route and $2.8 in the OP route).
ConclusionsIt was found that, to be competitive at industrial scale, lowered cost of ILs used and higher biomass loadings (50%) are essential for both routes, and in particular for the OP route. Overall, while the economic potential of both routes appears to be comparable at higher biomass loadings, the OP route showed the benefit of lower water consumption at the plant level, an important cost and sustainability consideration for biorefineries.