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.
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.
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:
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.