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Sustainable production of cellulosic ethanol

By 2030, almost 16 % of the fuel demand in Europe could be covered by advanced biofuels. This could create 300,000 new jobs and generate additional revenues of EUR 15 billion in Europe alone (ICCT, Wasted). The production of cellulosic ethanol from agricultural residues such as wheat straw – an advanced, sustainable and climate-friendly biofuel – is technologically mature. A successfully conducted fleet test with Mercedes-Benz vehicles using Clariant’s sunliquid® 20, a premium-grade E20 blend containing 20 % cellulosic ethanol, has shown that cellulosic ethanol E20 is technically feasible. In the field, the sunliquid® 20 exhibited excellent combustion properties with a high degree of efficiency. Furthermore, particle emissions were reduced by 50 % compared with today’s standard E10 fuel – while fuel consumption remained the same.

As a high quality biofuel with substantial greenhouse gas emission savings, cellulosic ethanol can provide a carbon-neutral alternative to fossil fuels. By utilizing currently unused agricultural raw material, the use of renewable resources and agricultural land is being optimized.

Since 2012, Germany’s largest cellulosic ethanol plant – which is based in Straubing, Bavaria – has been demonstrating the technological maturity of the sunliquid® process. Each year, up to 4,500 tons of agricultural residues such as wheat straw or corn stover are converted into cellulosic ethanol. In September 2013, the plant received the International Sustainability & Carbon Certification (ISCC) that confirmed that cellulosic ethanol produced with the sunliquid® technology is compliant with the sustainability criteria set out in the European Renewable Energy Directive.

The final step now to ensure broad implementation is to prove its viability on a full-size commercial scale. To support this, the EU-funded project SUNLIQUID with a consortium of companies and research institutes from Germany, Austria and Hungary was formed.

With a duration of five years, the SUNLIQUID project receives a contribution of EUR 23 million from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement no. 322386.


The project coordinator Clariant Produkte (Deutschland) GmbH is providing the sunliquid® technology and is responsible for the design and engineering of the cellulosic ethanol plant. This requires a detailed evaluation and selection of the site in terms of feedstock supply, logistics, staff availability as well as environmental and legal issues. Findings from the pre-commercial plant in Straubing are taken into account while planning the new large-scale commercial plant in Romania. Furthermore, Clariant will secure the supply of high quality starter cultures including stringent quality control. These starter cultures that produce innovative biocatalysts are of central importance to the operation of the plant. Furthermore, Clariant is responsible for bringing the produced cellulosic ethanol to market and for demonstrating the commercial viability of the sunliquid® technology. Clariant ensures the product’s compliance with all existing specifications in order to be sold to third-party blending facilities where cellulosic ethanol will be mixed with gasoline and distributed to end consumers as E5 and/or E10 blends.

Project partner ExportHungary is responsible for feedstock supply topics. This covers market research according to the available straw in the defined areas, search for potential straw suppliers and the development of appropriate contracting systems.

The project partner Energy Institute at the Johannes Kepler University Linz  carries out a full life cycle assessment of the sunliquid® process and raw materials. This includes comparing the environmental impact of the sunliquid® process with that of other renewable fuels, as well as assessing the most sustainable way to implement the sunliquid® technology.

Dissemination activities are performed by project partners Bavarian Research Alliance (BayFOR) and IBB Netzwerk GmbH. While BayFOR is responsible for external communication measures and dissemination of the project information to different target groups, IBB focuses on the organization of stakeholder and other events.