Making European sustainable mobility a reality with cellulosic ethanol

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Promoted content

Clariant’s pre-commercial plant in Straubing, Germany. [Clariant]

Transport is responsible for more than 25% of CO2 emissions worldwide and consumes almost 50% of the world’s oil production. The Green Deal calls on transport emissions to fall by 90% by 2050. Without the transport sector bearing its fair share, the EU will fail to achieve the 2050 goal of becoming climate neutral. Electrification will, without doubt, rise significantly in the next decade. To make significant progress and to be able to achieve results quickly, focusing solely on electrification is not enough.

We have a car fleet today, of which over 90% drive with an internal combustion engine (ICE)[1], and also in 2030, a large part of the vehicle fleet will still do so. Renewable and sustainable liquid fuels are needed to make an immediate contribution to reducing CO2 emissions from ICEs in the EU. Sustainable, advanced biofuels like cellulosic ethanol are a climate-neutral solution readily available today. Nowadays, cellulosic ethanol is used in passenger cars and as a clean alternative in heavy-duty road transport. However, technological solutions are also being implemented to make cellulosic ethanol available for the aviation and shipping sectors. Two fields that are difficult to electrify in the short- to midterm. With advanced biofuels, we can already contribute in the short term to combat climate change and a more sustainable world.

Europe’s first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant ready by the end of 2021

By the end of this year, Europe’s first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol production plant will be completed by the Swiss company Clariant in Southwest Romania. As one of the leading producers of specialty chemicals, Clariant is committed to providing innovative answers to the global challenges of our time, such as zero-emission mobility. One innovative solution developed by the company in that regard is the sunliquid® technology that creates value by converting agricultural residues, e.g., cereal straw, corn stover, rice straw, or sugarcane bagasse into cellulosic ethanol.

The sunliquid® plant in Romania will produce 50,000 tons of cellulosic ethanol by converting 250,000 tons of locally sourced sustainable wheat straw. More than 400 green jobs will be permanently created by constructing the plant in a predominantly rural area – 100 of them in the plant itself and 300 in adjacent areas, e.g., in the feedstock supply chain. This demonstrates how the “leaving-no-one-behind” concept, one of the vital goals expressed in the Green Deal, can be achieved.

Besides, cellulosic ethanol projects are also underway in three other European countries – Slovakia, Poland, and Bulgaria – with Clariant’s technology.

Tapping into the full potential of plants, the process makes use of currently underutilized biomass that can be sourced domestically in the EU. Based on a study by the ICCT, circa 225 Mio. tons of residues could be sustainably available in the EU in 2030 to produce advanced biofuel. This would supply 16% of road transport fuel in 2030.[2]

Clariant’s first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol production plant in Southwest Romania. © Marius Godeanu - http://www.mgphotography.ro

Bringing innovation to the market – stable political framework is needed

The sunliquid® process is energy self-sufficient and no fossil-based energy resources are required. The produced cellulosic ethanol saves around 95% of CO2 emissions when compared to fossil gasoline. That means: one plant with an output of 50,000 tons of cellulosic ethanol saves 120,000 tons of CO2 per year, the equivalent of the yearly emissions of ~35,000 cars. “Our sunliquid® process is a mature technology solution that is ready to use today to make a significant contribution to the EU’s climate ambitions by producing carbon-neutral fuels,” comments Christian Librera, Clariant’s Vice President and Head of Business Line Biofuels & Derivatives.

This is the result of years of R&D in biotechnology and process engineering conducted by the company at its Biotech Center in Munich, Germany. Since 2005, the technology has been developed on a laboratory scale and then, four years later, demonstrated in a medium-size pilot facility. In 2012, Clariant opened its precommercial plant in Straubing, Germany, producing up to 1,000 tons of cellulosic ethanol per year. Here the process has been thoroughly tested and validated to confirm the technological feasibility at a large scale. Then, in 2018 the groundbreaking for the commercial-scale plant in Romania took place.

“Bringing innovative technologies to the market needs a stable and consistent policy framework. It is imperative to provide industry players and investors the planning security to further invest in advanced biofuels projects. Industry and policy need to move hand in hand to turn the vision of a climate-neutral Europe into reality,” Christian Librera emphasizes.

More information about sunliquid® can be found at www.sunliquid.com and www.clariant.com/romania

Subscribe to our newsletters

Subscribe