In the debate on climate change and reduction
of greenhouse gases emissions, first, second or even
third generation biofuels are frequently mentioned.
The use of the concept of different generations can be
in itself confusing. However it should be noted that
it is a simplifying term used to categorise what is in
reality a diverse range of technologies and feedstock
types. Advanced biofuels (2nd and 3rd generations)
offer the chance to have a better environmental
impact and are aimed at the use of non-food feedstock
and residues of food feedstock.
As these advanced biofuels come to the market they
will coexist with first generation biofuels, and as
technology improves their market share will gradually
increase. The wide spread adoption of first generation
biofuels, using technology that is well known today,
is necessary to speed up the development and market
introduction of advanced biofuels. This in turn will
help address scale-up and distribution issues and
create a broader market.
1. What are advanced biofuels?
Advanced biofuels are those biofuels that have the potential to be produced in significant quantities
and deliver a significant lifecycle GHG emission saving while minimizing competition for agricultural
land. They also have the potential to be economically competitive in terms of cost with conventional
fossil fuels – just as ethanol from sugar cane in Brazil is today.
Advanced biofuels may be produced for instance from waste, agricultural (food crops) residues, non-
food (ligno) cellulosic biomass, crops grown on marginal land and algae.
1.1 Bioethanol & biobutanol
Bioethanol is a biofuel derived by the fermentative transformation of sugars (glucose, starch or biomass). It is a full substitute for
gasoline in so-called flexi-fuel vehicles in various blending concentrations up to 100%. In smaller blend quantities it can be used in
conventional, unmodified vehicles.
Process flow diagram for ethanol production from ligno-cellulose
Pre-treatment Hydrolysis Fermentation Product
Lignin Lignin broth
Energy Energy Enzymes Yeast, Residue
Bacteria (process fuel)
Source: International Energy Agency, Gaps in the research of second generation transportation biofuels
Biobutanol is an alcohol belonging to the high alcohol branch and can be
used as fuel. Like bioethanol, biobutanol is produced by fermentation and
uses the same feedstocks. Therefore a bioethanol plant can be converted
into a biobutanol plant and vice versa. Biobutanol can be mixed with
gasoline more easily than bioethanol and can be used at higher blends in
The key difference between the first and the advanced generations of
bioethanol is the feedstock: first generation is mostly based on sugar (sugar
beet, sugar cane) or starch (corn, wheat, sorghum) derived from food
crops, whereas advanced generation biofuels are based on ligno-cellulosic
materials such as agriculture and forest residues, industrial wastes, or
dedicated crops. These include, for example, switch grass, short rotation
coppice or new varieties of corn or sugar cane2 which generally produce
more biomass. From a technological point of view, advanced bioethanol
is more complex to produce as ligno-cellulosic biomass must undergo a
pre-treatment before the enzyme treatment that will release the sugar for
fermentation into ethanol.
Biodiesel is usually produced from oilseed rape, soy and palm oils. Improved Using hydrogenation (the catalytic reaction of oils and fats with hydrogen),
production processes allow the use of alternative to feedstocks such as used novel processes are being developed as an alternative to the well
cooking oils, animal fats and algae. Alternative non-food oil crops such as established trans-esterification procedure. This process can produce a high
jatropha may also serve as a feedstock for biodiesel. quality syndiesel from low quality feedstocks like tallow, used cooking oils
Biodiesel (or FAME3) is produced through trans-esterification (a chemical
reaction) of vegetable oils, but also residual oils and fats. With minor engine A more recent process for converting complete biomass (from for example
modifications, it can be used either as a full substitute for diesel or blended crop residues or wood) into a “biodiesel” is the BTL (biomass to liquid)
into traditional diesel up to 20%. technology. This uses gasification or pyrolysis (chemical decomposition
of organic materials by heating in the absence of oxygen or any other
reagents) to transform biomass into syngas (synthetic gas) and retransform
it into diesel or gasoline6.
2. What is the status of advanced biofuels technology development?
Technologies Laboratory Pilot Plant Demonstration Plant Market
It should be noted that the technology development status (specially for the demonstration stage) is not homogenous in different part of the world.
For instance ligno-cellulosic ethanol demonstration already exist in the U.S. and China.
2.1 Bioethanol and biobutanol
A number of demonstration plants to produce ligno-cellulosic ethanol Enzyme technology for making ligno-cellulosic ethanol will be available
are now operating or under construction in the EU and in North America7. soon9. Full scale commercialisation is expected to happen over the coming
Regular updates on the development of production facilities are provided years, most probably before 2015.
by the International Energy Agency on its website8.
Pre-treatment effect on ligno-cellulosic material.
Source: (From Hsu et al., 1980) / International Energy Agency, Gaps in the research of second generation transportation biofuels
Biobutanol from fermentation was a process used in the first half of the biobutanol yield of the process to improve its competitiveness. Two large
20th century. Though neither particularly efficient nor competitive with companies10 have developed plans to convert an existing bioethanol plant
petrochemical processes, some production plants remained in China which for biobutanol production as soon as the technology is available. They are
are now reactivated to produce biobutanol fuel. With higher oil prices and planning a pilot plant to further develop the technology. It is expected to
environmental concerns several groups are attempting to increase the be operational in 2010.
Jatropha is a tropical and subtropical plant which contains more than the biodiesel synthesis process means that 100% of the feedstock is used15.
30% oil11. It is a potential new feedstock for the production of non-edible This process should be commercially available within the next five years.
plantoils for energy use. It is currently grown and tested in countries such
as India, Indonesia, Brazil and several African countries. In the future, it The development of BTL (biomass-to-liquid) for the production of synthetic
may become an attractive alternative to established oil crops, since it is diesel is most advanced in Europe, particularly in Germany. Industry is16
an environmentally flexible crop with reduced water needs and hence has expected to have its first industrial scale production plant operational
potential to become a sustainable source of bioenergy production. The first within the next three to five years.
crude jatropha oil was produced in 2008 and commercial fuel is expected
become available in 2009/2010.12 The use of algae for the production of biomass and oils for biofuels is still in
its early stages17. In the production process, algae can be cultivated in open
With new processes under development, it is now possible to reuse ponds to capture carbon dioxide from the air. This CO2 can also be processed
glycerol13 a by-product of the current biodiesel production process for as a waste product from power station, which is captured via closed glass
biodiesel production. Biotransformation of glycerol into oils by means of or plastic tube circulation fermentors.
algae and yeasts14 as well as the reintroduction of the residual glycerol in
3. What are the advantages of advanced biofuels?
Advanced biofuels mitigate climate change18 by allowing further Advanced biofuels produce useful by-products. Like first
GHG emission reductions. For example, bioethanol produced from wheat generation biofuels by-products, these fuels can be used in other chemical
straw only release 20g CO²/km along its life cycle while petrols release onprocesses, burned for heat and power or used as fertilizer. As an example,
average 163g CO²/km19. biodiesel from jatropha can be burnt in a standard diesel car while the
residual press cake can also be processed into biomass to power electricity
Advanced biofuels reduce pressure on food crops by developing plants. In mature plantations, every hectare can currently produce between
alternative fuels from non food feedstock and agricultural residues. 1,5 and 2 tonnes of oil and 3- 4 tonnes of biomass. Trials are also underway
Moreover, they can use waste products as feedstocks, reducing the amount to convert the residual meal from the crushing process into a valuable
of agricultural waste to be landfilled or disposed of by other mechanisms. protein source for animal feed use.21
Advanced biofuels reduce pressure on land use20 as they require Advanced biofuels are more flexible to market preference
less farmland to grow the same amount of feedstock. For example, ligno- (diesel vs gasoline). With the BTL technology, syngas can be used to
cellulosic ethanol is produced using the whole crop instead of only easily produce either diesel or gasoline22. Equally algae can be used to produce
accessible sugars and starch. Jatropha, can help avoid land competition as biodiesel through its oils and bioethanol from its biomass. Lastly biobutanol
it can be grown on marginal land that is unsuitable for food crops. In the can be used as both gasoline and diesel substitutes.
future, biodiesel from algae could further aleviate pressure on land as it
could be produced in fermentors.
Biofuels CO2 profile Feedstocks Production cost CO2 proﬁle**
saving by feedstock20
Bioethanol Corn (US) 46 90
Wheat (EU) 63 60-105
Sugar beets (EU) 69 30-70
Sugarcane (Brazil) 35 15
Wood* 47 25
Other ligno- 41 12
Biodiesel Rapeseed (EU) 64 40-80
Soy bean (US) 59 25-60
Syndiesel BTL* 42 15
Second generation biofuel
* Expected cost in 2020 ** Percentage of CO2 release for the corresponding fossil fuel (well to wheel)
Source: McKinsey; Eucar/Concawe/JRC well-to-wheels study, 2003, 2005
4. What are the challenges for advanced biofuels?23
Advanced biofuels provide promising opportunities which several The commercialisation of biofuels and advanced biofuels will also mean
companies have already embraced in order to invest for the future. These that infrastructure to harvest, transport, store and refine biomass must be
investments aim notably to reduce the relatively high production costs, developed. To avoid unnecessary transportation, biofuels and advanced
to improve the efficiency of biomass to biofuels conversion and to reduce biofuels production could be coupled with the production of other bio-
the costs of biomass transportation, notably via a better biomass logistics based products in integrated biorefineries.
An integrated biorefinery is a cluster of bio-industries, using a
Various technologies, which can optimise the use of crops or provide more variety of different technologies to produce chemicals, biofuels, food
efficient biomass pre-treatment are being investigated. Pre-treatment ingredients and power from biomass raw materials. The benefits
of biomass is technically challenging and constitutes a large part of the of an integrated biorefinery are numerous. The development of
processing cost. In the case of enzyme-based ligno-cellulosic ethanol for alternative feedstocks and cost-competitive conversion processes
example, a package of enzymes/microbes will be required for hydrolysis will mean cheaper and more environmentally sustainable options
(breakdown of cellulose to sugar) and fermentation; which adds significant for integrated biorefineries. This will also allow biorefineries to
process costs. spread over a wider geographical region.
5. How can biotechnology contribute to advanced biofuels?
Biotechnology is currently one of the most effective and innovative The challenges from agricultural requirements to produce food and energy
technologies we have to meet European targets for biofuel use, while can only be met if we use all options available for increasing productivity
reducing the adverse environmental impacts of transport and limiting and safeguarding harvests. Innovative crop protection products and plant
increased cultivated land. biotechnology provide solutions to reduce the energy consumption in
agriculture while conserving natural resources and contributing to mitigate
Industrial biotechnology with its competitive, clean and clever use of bio- the effect of climate change. Modern plant biotechnology and plant
based technologies can play a key role in making biofuels more sustainable. breeding methods have a key role to play in the quest to increase yields
As an example, biocatalyzed bioethanol production from ligno-cellulosic and quality in a sustainable way. Plant biotechnology also offers solutions
biomass uses enzymes that convert (hemi)cellulose and organic agricultural to address technical requirements through the development of crops that
waste to sugar. produce more fermentable carbohydrates or higher yields.One notable
example is modern canola hybrid oil-seed which can produce up to 20-30
Innovation in industrial biotechnology, especially in the development of percent higher yields on average than those achieved with regular hybrid
enzymes that can convert (hemi)cellulose with improved efficiency, is varieties.
key to the development of advanced biofuels. These enzymes will reduce
advanced biofuels production costs and make them cost-competitive with
petrol-based fuels (to a varying degree depending on the price of oil per
14 Neuron BPH, http://www.neuronbp.com/
References and Further Reading 15 Institut de Ciència i Tecnologia (IUCT), http://www.iuct.com
1 British Petroleum and DuPont: Biobutanol factsheet http://www. 17 http://www1.eere.energy.gov/biomass/pdfs/algalbiofuels.pdf
bp.com/liveassets/bp_internet/globalbp/STAGING/global_assets/ 18 See also EuropaBio’s factsheet: Industrial biotechnology and
downloads/B/Bio_biobutanol_fact_sheet_jun06.pdf climate change http://www.europabio.org/Industrial_biotech/
2 Fernando Reinach, Votorantim Ventures, Brazil – presentation at IB ClimateChange_IB.pdf
World Congress, Toronto 2006 19 Liquid Transport Biofuels - Technology Status Report, http://www.
3 Fatty Acid Methyl Esters nnfcc.co.uk/metadot/index.pl?id=6597&isa=DBRow&field_
4 http://www.nesteoil.com/default.asp?path=1,41,539,7516,7522 name=file&op=download_file
5 http://www2.petrobras.com.br/tecnologia/ing/hbio.asp 20 See also EUropaBio’s factsheet: Biofuels and land use: http://www.
6 Liquid Transport Biofuels - Technology Status Report, http://www. europabio.org/Biofuels/Land%20use_Biofuels%20factsheet.pdf
nnfcc.co.uk/metadot/index.pl?id=6597&isa=DBRow&field_ 21 GEXSI Global market study on Jatropha http://www.jatropha-
name=file&op=download_file platform.org; Claims and Fact on Jatropha curcas L., Wageningen
7 http://www.grainnet.com/pdf/cellulosemap.pdf University http://www.fact-fuels.org/media_en/Claims_and_
8 http://biofuels.abc-energy.at/demoplants/projects/mapindex Facts_on_Jatropha_-WUR
9 Novozymes 22 Source: International Energy Agency, Gaps in the research of second
10 British Petroleum and DuPont generation transportation biofuels.
11 GEXSI Global market study on Jatropha http://www.jatropha- 23 See also EuropaBio’s facsheet: Biotechnology making biofuels
platform.org sustainable http://www.europabio.org/Biofuels/Biofuels%20
12 D1 Oils http://www.d1plc.com; FACT – Fuel from Agriculture in Brochure.pdf
Communal Technology http://www.fact-fuels.org; GEXSI Global
market study on Jatropha http://www.jatropha-platform.org Other factsheets in the series available on: http://www.europabio.org/
13 100 kg of glycerol are produced for 1 ton of biodiesel, http://www. Biofuels/Biofuels_about.htm
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