Techno-economics of integrating bioethanol production from spent sulfite liquor for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from sulfite pulping mills

Petersen, Abdul M. ; Haigh, Kate ; Gorgens, Johann F. (2014-12)

CITATION: Petersen, A. M., Haigh, K. & Gorgens, J. F. 2014. Techno-economics of integrating bioethanol production from spent sulfite liquor for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from sulfite pulping mills. Biotechnology for Biofuels, 7(1):169, doi:10.1186/s13068-014-0169-8.

The original publication is available at http://www.biotechnologyforbiofuels.com/content/7/1/169

Publication of this article was funded by the Stellenbosch University Open Access Fund.

Article

Background Flow sheet options for integrating ethanol production from spent sulfite liquor (SSL) into the acid-based sulfite pulping process at the Sappi Saiccor mill (Umkomaas, South Africa) were investigated, including options for generation of thermal and electrical energy from onsite bio-wastes, such as bark. Processes were simulated with Aspen Plus® for mass- and energy-balances, followed by an estimation of the economic viability and environmental impacts. Various concentration levels of the total dissolved solids in magnesium oxide-based SSL, which currently fuels a recovery boiler, prior to fermentation was considered, together with return of the fermentation residues (distillation bottoms) to the recovery boiler after ethanol separation. The generation of renewable thermal and electrical energy from onsite bio-wastes were also included in the energy balance of the combined pulping-ethanol process, in order to partially replace coal consumption. The bio-energy supplementations included the combustion of bark for heat and electricity generation and the bio-digestion of the calcium oxide SSL to produce methane as additional energy source. Results Ethanol production from SSL at the highest substrate concentration was the most economically feasible when coal was used for process energy. However this solution did not provide any savings in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for the concentration-fermentation-distillation process. Maximizing the use of renewable energy sources to partially replace coal consumption yielded a satisfactory economic performance, with a minimum ethanol selling price of 0.83 US$/l , and a drastic reduction in the overall greenhouse gas emissions for the entire facility. Conclusion High substrate concentrations and conventional distillation should be used when considering integrating ethanol production at sulfite pulping mills. Bio-wastes generated onsite should be utilized at their maximum potential for energy generation in order to maximize the GHG emissions reduction.

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