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Cellulosic ethanol made from agricultural residues

The transport sector consumes about half of the world´s increasingly scarce oil resources, while at the same time, transport-generated CO2 emissions are also regarded as one of the causes of global warming. Over the next few years, this sector will register the largest growth in demand for liquid energy sources. According to the parameters set by the EU Commission in its Renewable Energy Directive (RED), 10 % of the energy needs in the transport sector should be met by renewable energy by 2020 and greenhouse gas emissions reduced by 6 %. This paves the way for climate-friendly biofuels.

StrohzapfsäuleCellulosic ethanol, a 2nd generation biofuel made from agricultural residues such as wheat straw and corn stover, could make a substantial contribution to achieve the EU’s objectives. As yet, the main challenge was to develop a cellulosic ethanol process that is technologically feasible and at the same time economically profitable. The innovative sunliquid® technology developed by Clariant Produkte (Deutschland) GmbH, the coordinator of the EU-funded project SUNLIQUID (“sunliquid® large scale demonstration plant for the production of cellulosic ethanol”), has overcome this challenge and meets all the requirements of a technically and economically efficient process for converting agricultural residues into climate-friendly biofuel. The process converts the difficult to access C5 and C6 sugars contained in this plant material almost entirely into ethanol. The resources used do not compete with food and feed crops, but are created in sufficient quantities worldwide as a by-product of current agricultural practice. Another major advantage of this technology: up to 95% of CO2 emissions can be saved compared to fossil fuels when used as transportation fuel.

From April 2014 to March 2019, the project receives a contribution of EUR 23 million from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). By setting up a first-of-its kind large-scale sunliquid® production plant, the project aims to confirm the technical and economic viability of the sunliquid® technology for the conversion of lignocellulosic biomass to cellulosic sugars for further fermentation to ethanol. This will lay the foundation for an essential contribution to a more sustainable energy system in Europe.