Favorable feedstock costs can drop cellulosic sugar prices

By Lux Research | November 13, 2013

Lower feedstock prices can drive down prices of fermentable cellulosic sugar to 26 cents per kilogram (kg), down from 32 to 36 cents per kg, competitive with sugars from corn or sugarcane, according to Lux Research. This advance would allow bio-based chemicals and biofuels to be made from more plentiful non-food sources, helping them better compete with petroleum-based chemicals and fuels.

“Feedstock is the single largest driver of overall fuel production economics. While agricultural waste is a common target feedstock, municipal and industrial waste can be near zero cost, or even negative cost,” said Andrew Soare, Lux Research senior analyst and the lead author of the report titled, “Cellulosic Chemicals and Fuels Race to Compete with First-Gen Sugar Economics.” “While enzymes are a big cost driver for cellulosic sugar, methods such as supercritical fluid processes that don’t use enzymes at all can offer cheaper options,” he added.

Lux Research analysts built a cost model for a 700,000-ton-per-year plant to study the five main routes from lignocellulosic biomass to sugars. Among their findings:

Cellulosic sugar costs vary. The minimum selling price for cellulosic sugars depends on the processes used. Dilute acid yields 34 cents per kg, high-opex steam explosion costs 35 cents per kg, ammonia fiber expansion costs 36 cents per kg, and supercritical water can yield the cheapest price of 32 cents per kg.

Feedstock has a 21 percent impact on cellulosic sugar prices. A sensitivity analysis of cellulosic sugar prices found that flexing feedstock up to $100 per metric ton and down to $45 per metric ton (from a baseline of $70 per metric ton) had the largest impact on sugar prices, changing it by over 21 percent.

Eschewing enzymes yields cheapest prices. Enzymes are the most expensive variable in prices of cellulosic sugar, and supercritical fluid and concentrated acid processes don’t require enzymes at all, potentially offering the cheapest options – though technology risk remains.

The report, titled “Cellulosic Chemicals and Fuels Race to Compete with First-Gen Sugar Economics,” is part of the Lux Research Alternative Fuels Intelligence and the Bio-based Materials and Chemicals Intelligence services.