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Read more about cellulosic ethanol


Traditionally, ethanol – colloquially known as spirit – was made from sugar and starchy agricultural products such as sugar cane, wheat, potatoes and corn. The starch was converted to sugar which was then fermented into ethanol. This type of ethanol is usually called first generation ethanol.

Second generation ethanol is produced by the cellulose being broken down into sugar. Cellulose is the material that essentially builds up plants’ cell walls and it is available in virtually unlimited quantities.

Cellulose ethanol is necessary for the future

Already today there are signs that world oil production has begun to decline. The oil will not run out for many years, but we must develop and utilise alternative energy sources that do not have the great negative climate influence that fossil fuels have. Otherwise we will not manage to meet our energy requirements in the long run.

Globally, ethanol is the largest, fastest growing and most proven biofuel. It has high octane, burns cleanly and is rapidly broken down in nature. Even first generation ethanol made in the right way has significant climatic effects and can reduce the emissions of fossil carbon dioxide by the transport sector by about 70 percent. Increased use of cellulosic ethanol will not only enhance the effect, it will also allow us to use the earth’s resources much more efficiently.

Ethanol is also an important raw material in other ways, not least in the chemical industry. There, cellulose-based ethanol can also have a considerable green impact.

Many different raw materials

Many different raw materials The greatest advantage of SEKAB’s process is its very wide raw material base. Residues from agriculture and forestry are the materials most used today, but energy crops can also be used.

The main ingredients in the raw materials are cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin, together referred to as lignocellulose.

During much of the development period SEKAB has worked with wood from conifers due to its abundant availability in Sweden. Lignocellulose from conifers is one of the most difficult materials to work with and SEKAB is world leader in the production of ethanol from lignocellulose from conifers. This has resulted in SEKAB’s process being proven to work very well even with more easy to use agricultural raw materials such as straw and bagasse (sugar cane residue).

Products: Ethanol, lignin and biogas

The E-tech process provides three main products: ethanol, biogas and lignin. Lignin is an aromatic compound which together with cellulose and hemicellulose builds up the cell walls of most plants. Lignin has high energy density and can be pelleted and used as fuel for heating and power production.

LigninLignin can also be refined into various products. Internationally, there is much research ongoing into the different uses of lignin, such as creating nanoparticles and mixing lignin into various composite materials.

In the retting of the residue biogas is produced which can either be further processed and sold or used to create energy and heat for the process.

Energy balance in the cellulose process

Cellulose processThe energy balance in the E-tech process is high seen throughout the whole product flow. Overall, it provides an efficiency of 80-85 percent with a loss of heat energy of just 15-20 percent.

This means that 80-85 percent of the energy input in the process in the form of raw materials, heat and electricity is output as sellable products.

Large international potential

To help us meet the EU target of replacing ten percent of petrol and diesel with renewable fuels by 2020 we will require more than one hundred new biofuel plants. From a global perspective, the figure is many times higher.

According to all forecasts, ethanol consumption in the world will increase dramatically in the future. Consequently, the raw material base for ethanol production must be rapidly expanded internationally so that the increased cultivation of crops for biofuels does not take precedence over the sustainability requirements.

Ethanol is the largest, fastest growing and most proven biofuel.