Biofuel technologies: an overview?

This data-file provides an overview of the 3.5Mbpd global biofuels industry, across its main components: corn ethanol, sugarcane ethanol, vegetable oils, palm oil, waste oils (renewable diesel), cellulosic biomass, algal biofuels, biogas and landfill gas.

For each biofuel technology, we describe the production process, advantages and drawbacks; plus we quantify  the market size, typical costs, CO2 intensities and yields per acre.

While biofuels can be lower carbon than fossil fuels, they are not zero-carbon, hence continued progress is needed to improve both their economics and their process-efficiencies.

Our long-term estimate is that the total biofuels market could reach 20Mboed (chart below),  however this would require another 100M of land and oil prices would need to rise to $125/bbl to justify this switch.

The data-file also contains an overview of sustainable aviation fuels, summarizing the opportunity set, then estimating the costs and CO2 intensities of different options.

Biomass to biofuel, or biomass for burial?

Greater decarbonization at a lower cost is achievable by burying biomass (such as corn or sugarcane) rather than converting it into bio-ethanol.

This model captures the economics. Detailed costs are estimated for biomass burial and to compare the relative CO2 footprints of the two options.

Three individual tabs illustrate margins, NPVs and IRRs for sugar-cane to bio-ethanol economics, buried sugarcane, and buried napier grass.

CO2 from US bio-ethanol plants?

This data-file tabulates the CO2 emissions from US bioethanol plants, which produce around 1Mbpd of liquid fuels, with an average CO2 intensity of 85kg/boe. In addition, we estimate 160kg/boe of CO2 are emitted in producing US corn, so bio-ethanol has a total CO2 intensity of 245kg/boe (c40% less than conventional oil products).

Our data are based on granular disclosures from 170 separate facilities, which have reported to the EPA and EIA disclosures. Hence we can screen more and less CO2-intensive States and Companies.

Covered companies, ranked by ethanol capacity, include Poet, Valero, Great Plains, Koch, Marathon and White Energy.

Biofuel, green diesel, renewable diesel: where’s the IP?

This data-file tracks 5,000 patents filed into biofuels: by geography, by company and particularly in 2017-20. The pace of research activity into “biofuels” and “biodiesel” seems to have halved since 2014, suggesting industry interest is waning.

As usual, China has come to dominate the recent patent literature, accounting for 60% of recent filings. Out of the ‘Top 25’ patent filings from 2017-20, 15 are Chinese companies.

Ranked by recent patent filings, technology leaders include Sinopec, BASF, Arkema, Neste, TOTAL, ExxonMobil and DuPont. It is interesting that some well known companies (e.g., Ryze) did not appear to have filed many patents recently. Full details on the patent trends and filings are in the data-file.

Carbon Offsets vs Renewable Diesel?

This short model compares different options for decarbonising diesel, either by substituting it with renewable diesel, or by offsetting its CO2 with carbon credits from reforestation.

We conclude that offsetting the CO2 of diesel fuel could cost 60-90% less than purchasing advanced biofuel, at current pricing. Economically justified premia for biofuels are calculated.

Please download the model to interrogate numbers and run your own scenarios. For more information on our input assumptions, please see our biofuels overview data-file.

Copyright: Thunder Said Energy, 2022.