An Economic and Environmental Comparison of a Biochemical and a Thermochemical Lignocellulosic Ethanol Conversion Processes

Thomas D. Foust, Andy Aden, Abhijit Dutta, Steven Phillips

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

172 Scopus Citations


With the world's focus on rapidly deploying second generation biofuels technologies, there exists today a good deal of interest in how yields, economics, and environmental impacts of the various conversion processes of lignocellulosic biomass to transportation fuels compare. Although there is a good deal of information regarding these conversion processes, this information is typically very difficult to use on a comparison basis because different underlying assumptions, such as feedstock costs, plant size, co-product credits or assumed state of technology, have been utilized. In this study, a rigorous comparison of different biomass to transportation fuels conversion processes was performed with standard underlying economic and environmental assumptions so that exact comparisons can be made. This study looked at promising second-generation conversion processes utilizing biochemical and thermochemical gasification technologies on both a current and an achievable state of technology in 2012. The fundamental finding of this study is that although the biochemical and thermochemical processes to ethanol analyzed have their individual strengths and weaknesses, the two processes have very comparable yields, economics, and environmental impacts. Hence, this study concludes that based on this analysis there is not a distinct economic or environmental impact difference between biochemical and thermochemical gasification processes for second generation ethanol production.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)547-565
Number of pages19
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2009

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-510-45976


  • Biochemical
  • Biofuel
  • Biomass
  • Catalyst
  • Corn stover
  • Emission
  • Energy efficiency
  • Enzymatic hydrolysis
  • Ethanol
  • Feedstock
  • Fermentation
  • Fuel synthesis
  • Gasification
  • Inhibitor
  • Mixed alcohol
  • Pretreatment
  • Recycle
  • Thermochemical


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