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Environ Sci Technol. 2005 May 15;39(10):3878-82.

Exergy-based efficiency and renewability assessment of biofuel production.

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  • 1Research Group Environmental Chemistry and Technology (ENVOC), Faculty of Bioscience Engineering, Ghent University, Coupure Links 653, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium.


This study presents an efficiency and renewability analysis of the production of three biofuels: rapeseed methyl ester (RME), soybean methyl ester (SME) and corn-based ethanol (EtOH). The overall production chains have been taken into account: not only the agricultural crop production and the industrial conversion into biofuel, but also production of the supply of agricultural resources (pesticides, fertilizers, fuel, seeding material) and industrial resources (energy and chemicals) to transform the crops into biofuel. Simultaneously, byproducts of the agricultural and industrial processes have been taken into account when resources have to be allocated to the biofuels. The technical analysis via the second law of thermodynamics revealed that corn-based EtOH results in the highest production rate with an exergetic fuel content of 68.8 GJ ha(-1) yr(-1), whereas the RME and SME results were limited to 47.5 and 16.4 GJ ha(-1) yr(-1). The allocated nonrenewable resource input to deliver these biofuels is significant: 16.5, 15.4, and 5.6 MJ ha(-1) yr(-1). This means that these biofuels, generally considered as renewable resources, embed a nonrenewable fraction of one-quarter for EtOH and even one-third for RME and SME. This type of analysis provides scientifically sound quantitative information that is necessarywith respect to the sustainability analysis of so-called renewable energy.

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