Review Article Current Challenges in Commercially Producing Biofuels from Lignocellulose Biomass

VenkateshBalan 1, 2

  • 1 DOE Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI48824,USA
    2 Biomass Conversion Research Laboratory (BCRL), Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, Michigan State University, MBI Building, 3900 Collins Road,       Lansing, MI48910,USA

Entire article : Current Challenges in Commercially Production of biofuels (pdf)


This review highlighted several bottlenecks that are being faced by big corporations to commercialize the biofuel production technology (pre-treatment, hydrolysis, microbial fermentation, and biofuel separation).Big corporations and oil companies that have capital to establish a new biorefinery are currently trying to align different novel process technologies that still have several separation and purification challenges to overcome[285] .The choice of pre-treatment and lignocellulose biomass could be decided based on the availability of sufficient quantity of catalyst and feedstock in that region.

The aligned technologies are currently scaled up to establish pilot plants to demonstrate the feasibility. Simultaneously, biomass logistics and techno-economic evaluations are carried out to assess the technology readiness level (TRL). Then assessments are made regarding the environment impact of using different technologies. Once appropriate feedstock, pre-treatment, and enzymes are combined to produce cheap sugars, the choice of biofuels and biochemicals depends on the market demand and more importantly the biofuel policy defined by the local and federal government. Furthermore, in order to compete with the cost of petroleum fuels, the cost of biofuel processing should be kept as low as possible using energy efficient technologies and using less water. Producing as many co-products as possible in a biorefinery will help to reduce the cost of biofuel production. If favourable conditions prevail after overcoming these hurdles, then a high capital of about 200–300 million dollars is required to establish a commercial grade biorefinery that could produce several million gallon of ethanol per year. It is important that a biorefinery should be established in an appropriate location that has good water resources, access to feedstock’s, and energy that is needed to process the feedstock.

Few big corporations (e.g.,Abengoa, Dupont,and Poet) are putting all their resources to first establish the lignocellulose biorefinery and then overcome all the bottlenecks to reduce the processing cost. Once this is done, then the group of technologies will be sublicensed to different biofuel manufactures. Only at this stage one can anticipate large amounts of biofuels entering the market to achieve the mandate set by DOE and USDA. To facilitate this biofuel production process, several millions of dollars are currently provided by the government to stimulate large scale biofuel production. In the past five years, only a few companies have been successful in demonstrating their technology in their pilot scales and are now gradually progressing to establish their commercial plants. Based on the public information that is available, it looks like lignocellulose ethanol will first hit the US market, later followed by several advanced biofuels (e.g., butanol, alkanes, etc.).Due to the challenges discussed in this paper, it is anticipated that there may be a considerable delay in the commercial availability of lignocellulose biofuels from the previously projected time line of 2022 by the USDA and DOE.