Effect of biomass species and plant size on cellulosic ethanol: A comparative process and economic analysis

Huajiang Huang, Shri Ramaswamy, Waleed Al-Dajani, Ulrike W Tschirner, Richard A. Cairncross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

219 Scopus citations


The effects of five different biomass species and their chemical composition on the overall process efficiency and economic performance considering feedstock availability and feedstock costs to manufacture ethanol from lignocellulose were studied. First is a comparison of ethanol production and excess electricity generated between different biomass species. Results show that, at the same feedstock rate of 2000 Mg day-1, aspen wood has larger ethanol production than switchgrass, hybrid poplar and corn stover, while the excess electricity generated is as follows in increasing order: aspen < corn stover < hybrid poplar/switchgrass. Second, our results show that the ethanol production is largely linear with holocellulose (cellulose plus hemicellulose) composition of the various biomass species. However, the relationship between excess electricity generated and non-holocellulose combustible component is nonlinear. Last, on environmental performance, it is found that the water losses per unit ethanol production are in the following order: aspen wood < corn stover < hybrid poplar < switchgrass. While corn stover is a potential feedstock to produce cellulosic ethanol with the lowest ethanol production cost at the present time, hybrid poplar and switchgrass are the two promising future energy crops. The effects of plant size analysis showed that the estimated feedstock delivered costs, ethanol production, excess electricity generated and solid and gaseous waste emissions all increase with plant size for the various biomass species. The ethanol production costs decrease with the increase in plant size with optimal plant sizes for corn stover in the range from 2000 dry Mg day-1 to 4000 dry Mg day-1.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)234-246
Number of pages13
JournalBiomass and Bioenergy
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was carried out with support from the University of Minnesota's Initiative on Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE) ( www.iree.umn.edu ). We would like to thank NREL for their support and cooperation. We also thank Prof. Harlan Petersen, Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering and Mr. Keith Jacobson, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for much of the information on wood feedstock and delivered hardwood chip price.


  • Aspen wood
  • Biomass species
  • Biorefinery
  • Corn stover
  • Cost estimation
  • Hybrid poplar
  • Lignocelluloses-to-ethanol process
  • Plant size
  • Switchgrass
  • Techno-economic modeling


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