The Techno-Economic Basis for Coproduct Manufacturing To Enable Hydrocarbon Fuel Production from Lignocellulosic Biomass

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Biorefinery process development relies on techno-economic analysis (TEA) to identify primary cost drivers, prioritize research directions, and mitigate technical risk for scale-up through development of detailed process designs. Here, we conduct TEA of a model 2000 dry metric ton-per-day lignocellulosic biorefinery that employs a two-step pretreatment and enzymatic hydrolysis to produce biomass-derived sugars, followed by biological lipid production, lipid recovery, and catalytic hydrotreating to produce renewable diesel blendstock (RDB). On the basis of projected near-term technical feasibility of these steps, we predict that RDB could be produced at a minimum fuel selling price (MFSP) of USD $9.55/gasoline-gallon-equivalent (GGE), predicated on the need for improvements in the lipid productivity and yield beyond current benchmark performance. This cost is significant given the limitations in scale and high costs for aerobic cultivation of oleaginous microbes and subsequent lipid extraction/recovery. In light of this predicted cost, we developed an alternative pathway which demonstrates that RDB costs could be substantially reduced in the near term if upgradeable fractions of biomass, in this case hemicellulose-derived sugars, are diverted to coproducts of sufficient value and market size; here, we use succinic acid as an example coproduct. The coproduction model predicts an MFSP of USD $5.28/GGE when leaving conversion and yield parameters unchanged for the fuel production pathway, leading to a change in biorefinery RDB capacity from 24 to 15 MM GGE/year and 0.13 MM tons of succinic acid per year. Additional analysis demonstrates that beyond the near-term projections assumed in the models here, further reductions in the MFSP toward $2-3/GGE (which would be competitive with fossil-based hydrocarbon fuels) are possible with additional transformational improvements in the fuel and coproduct trains, especially in terms of carbon efficiency to both fuels and coproducts, recovery and purification of fuels and coproducts, and coproduct selection and price. Overall, this analysis documents potential economics for both a hydrocarbon fuel and bioproduct process pathway and highlights prioritized research directions beyond the current benchmark to enable hydrocarbon fuel production via an oleaginous microbial platform with simultaneous coproduct manufacturing from lignocellulosic biomass.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)3196-3211
Number of pages16
JournalACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering
Issue number6
StatePublished - 6 Jun 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 American Chemical Society.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5100-66470


  • Biochemicals
  • Biofuels
  • Biorefinery
  • Integration
  • Lignocellulose


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