EU’s advanced bioethanol potential insufficient to meet target

10 December 2021
Advanced biofuels
Renewable energy
Transport sector
bioethanol
crop residues
Targets

A new MAGIC publication in the journal 'Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Changereports on the potential of the European Union (EU) to produce advanced biofuels. To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the European Union (EU) has set targets for utilizing energy from renewable sources. By 2030, a minimum of 3.5% of the energy in the EU’s transport sector must come from renewable biological sources, such as crop residues. To assess whether or not this target is realistic, the MAGIC team from the University of Twente analyzed the EU’s advanced bioethanol potential from wheat straw and maize stover and evaluated its environmental (land, water, and carbon) footprint. The assessment differentiated between gross and net bioethanol output, the latter by subtracting the energy inputs in production. The researchers found that the annual amount of sustainably harvestable wheat straw and maize stover is 81.9 Megatonnes (Mt) at field moisture weight (65.3 Mt as dry weight), yielding 470 PJ as gross (404 PJ as net) advanced bioethanol output. The calculated net advanced bioethanol could replace at most 2.95% of the EU transport sector’s energy consumption. EU’s advanced bioethanol has a land footprint of 0.28 m2 MJ−1 for wheat straw and 0.18 m2 MJ−1 for maize stover. The average water footprint of advanced bioethanol was calculated at 173 L MJ−1 for wheat straw and 113 L MJ−1 for maize stover. The average carbon footprint per unit of advanced bioethanol is 19.4 and 19.6 g CO2eq MJ−1 for wheat straw and maize stover, respectively. The researchers conclude that using advanced bioethanol can lead to emission savings, but the EU’s advanced bioethanol production potential is insufficient to achieve the target of a minimum share of 3.5% of advanced biofuels in the transport sector by 2030. In addition, the water and land footprints associated with advanced bioethanol are not smaller than the footprints of conventional bioethanol.

The full publication is available on the publisher's website: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11027-021-09984-z.