Journal article Open Access

Can crop residues provide fuel for future transport? Limited global residue bioethanol potentials and large associated land, water and carbon footprints

Holmatov, B.; Schyns, J.F.; Krol, M.S.; Gerbens-Leenes, P.W.; Hoekstra, A.Y.

Bioethanol production from non-crop based lignocellulosic material has reached the commercial scale and is advocated as a possible solution to decarbonize the transport sector. This study evaluates how much presently used transport related fossil fuels can be replaced with lignocellulosic bioethanol using crop residues, calculates greenhouse gas emission savings, and determines lignocellulosic bioethanol's land, water, and carbon footprints. We estimate global bioethanol production potential from 123 crop residues in 192 countries and 20 territories under different environmental constraints (optimistic and realistic sustainable potentials) versus no constraints (theoretical potential) on residue availability. Previous studies on global bioethanol production potential from lignocellulosic material focused on one or few biomass feedstocks, and excluded (un)constrained residue availability scenarios. Our results suggest the global net lignocellulosic bioethanol output ranges from 7.1 to 34.0 EJ per annum replacing between 7% and 31% of oil products for transport yielding relative emission savings of 338 megatonne (Mt; 70%) to 1836 Mt (79%). Emission savings range from 4% to 23% of total transport emissions in the realistic sustainable versus theoretical potential. Land, water and carbon footprints of net bioethanol vary between potentials, countries/territories, and feedstocks, but overall exceed footprints of conventional bioethanol. Averaged footprints range between 0.14 and 0.24 m2 land per megajoule (MJ−1), 74–120 L water MJ−1, and 28–44 g CO2 equivalent MJ−1, with smaller footprints in the theoretical potential caused by the exclusion of secondary residues and low price of alternative biomass chains in the sustainable potential.

Authors B.H., J.F.S., and M.S.K, gratefully acknowledge funding by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under Grant Agreement No. 689669 (MAGIC). This work reflects the author's views only; the funding agencies are not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.
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