About Ethanol

Innovation & Advanced Biofuels

Renewable ethanol is a versatile product and our industry is a vital asset in Europe’s quest to decarbonise transport, boost growth and jobs, and achieve greater resource efficiency by utilising a range of feedstocks, such as waste and residues.

The ethanol sector is constantly innovating

European ethanol plants are true biorefineries, converting multiple inputs into multiple outputs. These are not limited to renewable ethanol, but also include the production of much-needed GMO-free animal feed and biogenic carbon dioxide. The sector is also constantly innovating at different stages of the conversion processes. For example, new enzymes and yeasts have been developed in order to maximize the amount of ethanol produced from the feedstock used, improving resource efficiency. New outputs have also been developed, such as oil extracted from maize and wheat.

Similarly, the spread of best practice and constant innovation allow for the minimisation of waste. In many cases our plants pursue closed-loop production systems using, for example, waste biomass to generate green electricity and heat for direct use in ethanol production plants. Water use is also is kept to a minimum, recycled and/or treated before discharge.

The potential of advanced biofuels is within reach

Advanced ethanol, such as cellulosic ethanol, is a renewable fuel that further optimises resource efficiency by using waste and residue material, such as straw. In Europe, cellulosic ethanol can also be produced from dedicated energy crops such as miscanthus and switch grass. Ligno-cellulosic ethanol could be produced in dedicated plants, or could even be co-produced with conventional biofuels, creating a synergy that would maximize the benefits of the two pathways. Cellulosic ethanol has the potential to achieve even higher GHG emissions savings, up to carbon neutrality compared to fossil fuels, but its benefits go beyond this:

  • A 2017 report by E4tech found that ligno-cellulosic ethanol volume could be heavily increased to support EU renewable and environmental ambitions.
  • A 2014 report by the European Climate Foundation found that by 2030, some 220 million tonnes of cellulosic material (from agricultural residues, municipal solid waste and forestry residues) could be made available sustainably in the EU for energy production, and up to 300,000 jobs created in Europe – mostly in high-tech areas – as a direct result.
  • Cellulosic ethanol production will incentivise the collection of agricultural residues, which will diversify farmers’ income and generate additional European revenues. Advanced production technologies have the potential to process new, dedicated energy crops grown on degraded or marginal land that currently lies fallow.

Processing these feedstocks to extract sugars requires high-tech facilities, pioneering enzyme and yeast extraction technologies, as well as highly skilled people. Europe enjoys easy access to these resources, thanks in part to traditional financing in the first stages of R&D up to the point of pilot and demonstration plants. Europe now needs to maximize the use of these resources and harvest the benefits of cellulosic ethanol by supporting fully integrated commercial-scale biorefineries.

Key Facts

  • Research has found that by 2030 some 220 million tonnes of cellulosic material could be made available sustainably in the EU for energy production
  • As a result of this, up to 300,000 jobs will be created in Europe, mostly in high-tech areas
  • It is also estimated that Cellulosic ethanol production will incentivise the collection of agricultural residues, generating additional European revenues of up to €15bn annually and diversifying farmers' income
  • In Europe, policy needs to adapt to ensure that these benefits are realised - investments into advanced biofuel technologies are currently being made outside of the EU where policy and market conditions are more favourable