Universiteit Leiden

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Examining the sustainability aspects of biotechnology, especially those related to the production of ethanol from biomass.

2005  -   2011
Gjalt Huppes

Biosustain is part of the "Biotechnology and Society" research program connected to BBasic. It examines sustainability aspects of biotechnology, especially related to the production of ethanol from biomass. In Biosustain, Life Cycle Assessment is used as a key tool to assess the environmental performance of the production and use of ethanol from different feedstocks, both first and second generation. Case studies have been performed for ethanol from sugarcane, switchgrass, corn stover, and various other agricultural residues. The approach in all case studies has been to combine a detailed and specialist process design with a careful and consistent application of the LCA methodology. This leads to a number of case studies that can indeed be compared. One of the more methodological conclusions is, that methodological choices have a great influence on the outcomes of the sustainability assessment. A substantial conclusion is that GHG benefits from ethanol as a transport fuel are generally offset by an increase in the emissions of other pollutants. In addition to the environmental performance, also the energy balance and the life-cycle costs have been investigated.   More recently, the focus of BioSustain has shifted to the sustainability analysis of biorefineries. Preliminary findings are that the eco-efficiency of biorefineries is substantially better than that of dedicated ethanol-producing plants. Bioerefineries appear to be a promising development both from an economic and an environmental point of view. Over the next few years, this angle will be elaborated, including software design:  combining process design software with LCA software will provide a powerful tool that can be very useful for industrial use as well.