Energy Efficiency Analysis: Biomass-to-Wheel Efficiency Related with Biofuels Production, Fuel Distribution, and Powertrain Systems

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Background Energy efficiency analysis for different biomass-utilization scenarios would help make more informed decisions for developing future biomass-based transportation systems. Diverse biofuels produced from biomass include cellulosic ethanol, butanol, fatty acid ethyl esters, methane, hydrogen, methanol, dimethyether, Fischer-Tropsch diesel, and bioelectricity; the respective powertrain systems include internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, hybrid electric vehicles based on gasoline or diesel ICEs, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, sugar fuel cell vehicles (SFCV), and battery electric vehicles (BEV).

Methodology/Principal Findings We conducted a simple, straightforward, and transparent biomass-to-wheel (BTW) analysis including three separate conversion elements -- biomass-to-fuel conversion, fuel transport and distribution, and respective powertrain systems. BTW efficiency is a ratio of the kinetic energy of an automobile's wheels to the chemical energy of delivered biomass just before entering biorefineries. Up to 13 scenarios were analyzed and compared to a base line case – corn ethanol/ICE. This analysis suggests that BEV, whose electricity is generated from stationary fuel cells, and SFCV, based on a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle with an on-board sugar-to-hydrogen bioreformer, would have the highest BTW efficiencies, nearly four times that of ethanol-ICE.

Significance In the long term, a small fraction of the annual US biomass (e.g., 7.1%, or 700 million tons of biomass) would be sufficient to meet 100% of light-duty passenger vehicle fuel needs (i.e., 150 billion gallons of gasoline/ethanol per year), through up to four-fold enhanced BTW efficiencies by using SFCV or BEV. SFCV would have several advantages over BEV: much higher energy storage densities, faster refilling rates, better safety, and less environmental burdens.