NILE project to address the scientific barriers to cost-effective production of bioethanol

November 8, 2005

Brussels, 07 Nov 2005

The goal of NILE, a new bioethanol Integrated Project, is to propose the best processes for a cost effective production of clean bioethanol from lignocellulose, that can be used in combustion transport engines. By bringing down the cost of bioethanol production from lignocellulosic feedstock to a level that makes this technology commercially interesting for Europeans, NILE is intended to help prevent climate change, to develop a sustainable, affordable and secure energy supply for Europe, and to promote industrial growth and rural development.

'Bioethanol is a renewable transport fuel that can be mixed with petrol or even be used in pure form to reduce build up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,' explains Katharina Krell, Secretary General of the European renewable energy centres agency (EUREC), and a partner in NILE. 'It generates very low net greenhouse gas emissions, especially when produced from lignocellulosic raw materials, thus preventing climate change.'

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the main gas responsible for the greenhouse effect. Emissions from the European transport sector are growing, mainly due to increasing road transport traffic. Moreover, energy demand for road transport could increase by a further 50 per cent by 2020. Among the laws adopted by the European Union to satisfy the complex triple objective of securing European energy supply, mitigating climate change and fostering European competitiveness, in the transport sector, the Biofuels Directive requires 5.75 per cent of the total transport fuels to come from renewable resources by 2010.

Bioethanol is currently produced from raw materials such as sugar cane, or beet or starch from cereals. Lignocellulosic biomass (LCB), which includes agricultural and forestry residues and waste materials, has the advantage of providing a greater choice of potential feedstock that does not conflict with land-use for food production, and that will be cheaper than conventional bioethanol sources. Moreover, plentiful supplies of lignocellulosic biomass may be found within Europe's borders, thus contributing to the geopolitical objective of reducing energy imports. However, the development of the conversion of LCB into biofuels has been hampered, so far, by economic and technical obstacles.

NILE is the first European project to look at the entire bioethanol production chain. It unites 21 industrial and research entities from 11 European countries with complementary expertise and experience, covering the whole chain of bioethanol production and use. The final consumers of bioethanol are also included in the form of a car-producer. NILE is coordinated by the French Petroleum Institute (IFP, Institut Fran?ais du P?trole). Its overall budget amounts to 12.8 million euro, from which 7.7 million euro is provided by the European Commission's Sixth Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP6).

NILE will develop, investigate and evaluate new technologies for efficient conversion of lignocellulose to bioethanol (via hydrolysis and fermentation). These technologies will be verified using a unique and fully integrated pilot plant to obtain reliable data for global socio-economic and environmental assessments, and for the design of a future demonstration unit.

Key challenges for the project are decreasing the cost of enzymatic hydrolysis of lignocellulose to fermentable sugars using new engineered enzyme systems; removing current intrinsic limitations in the conversion of fermentable sugars to ethanol; and validating the engineered enzyme systems and yeast strains in a fully integrated pilot plant.

'The idea is for the project to bring about new patents and commercialisation opportunities,' explains Guido Zacchi, professor of chemical engineering at Lund Institute of Technology. The project relies on a unique pilot plant operated by Etek, at ?rnsk?ldsvik (Sweden), where the studied technologies can be tested at a significant scale to evaluate cost and environmental impact.

Further information

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