The Energy Issues has no exclusive solution
The long-term shift away from fossil fuels is unavoidable. However, a single substitute has not yet emerged. With the innovative sunliquid® technology, which produces cellulosic ethanol from agricultural residues, Clariant offers a low-emission and carbon-neutral answer.
The energy turnaround in Germany is a done deal. By 2030, greenhouse gas emissions in Germany are to be reduced by at least 65% and by as much as 88% by 2040. The goal of greenhouse gas neutrality by 2045 is also enshrined in law. At the same time, the traditional internal combustion engine also faces an unpromising future. If the EU Commission has its way, the end of new registrations of diesel and gasoline cars will be as early as 2035. In Germany, too, there has been an increasing focus in recent years on the spread of e‑mobility as a climate-friendly alternative. However, many experts are already skeptical as to whether the ambitious goals can be achieved with the alternatives that have been propagated to date. Wind and solar energy, as well as hydrogen as an energy carrier, which is viewed rather cautiously in Germany, have so far shown clear weaknesses in their efficient use across the board as a substitute for fossil fuels. New technologies and additional alternatives to oil, coal and the like are therefore demanded.
With sunliquid®, an innovative process for obtaining cellulosic ethanol from agricultural residues, Clariant, a leading global specialty chemicals company, is developing a technology that presents itself as a versatile, environmentally friendly alternative and supplement to fossil fuels. At a demonstration plant in Straubing, Bavaria, bioethanol is produced by shredding and biologically digesting plant fibers known as cellulose with the help of specially developed enzymes. In contrast to 1st generation biofuels, this process does not use the sugary, edible fruits of food crops, but exclusively agricultural residues such as cereal straw, corn stover or sugar cane bagasse. This is because, against the backdrop of the global food situation, the targeted cultivation and use of food for fuel production appears to many observers to be a morally and environmentally controversial decision.
The biofuel produced this way, which can already be used in today’s existing vehicle infrastructure, is not only progressive but also extremely sustainable and climate neutral. No fossil fuels are required for production, as all energy is obtained from the combustion of lignin, a by-product left following the extraction of cellulose from lignocellulose. The vinasse can additionally be returned to the fields as a high-quality organic fertilizer, providing a concrete example of a circular economy. sunliquid® cellulosic ethanol thus achieves greenhouse gas savings of up to 95% compared to fossil fuels.
The sunliquid® technology developed by Clariant is proving to be an attractive way of producing sustainable and competitive energy sources, especially for countries and regions with a high proportion of agricultural production. As part of the EU SUNLIQUID project, Clariant is building a large-scale commercial plant to produce cellulosic ethanol from plant residues in Podari, Romania. In the long term, up to 50,000 metric tons of bioethanol with a purity level of 99.8% will be produced here annually from 250,000 metric tons of straw.
Nevertheless, those responsible decision makers deliberately do not want the process to be seen as the sole answer to the challenge of energy production in the future. “There will be no exclusive solution to the energy issue in terms of climate protection, CO2 reduction and sustainability, especially in the near and medium term, but rather a mix of different technologies,” explains Dr. Günter von Au, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Clariant. “The fuels we obtain from plant-based residues not only promise climate-friendly use in internal combustion engines in the overall balance, but also in air travel. I don’t see any competition here with electromobility.”
About the EU project SUNLIQUID
The aim of the SUNLIQUID project and its consortium is to demonstrate that the production of cellulosic ethanol on a commercial scale based on the sunliquid® process developed by Clariant is technically mature and economically viable. In the process, Clariant is building a new commercial production plant for the manufacture of cellulosic ethanol from agricultural residues in Podari (Romania). Cellulosic ethanol is an advanced, sustainable and climate-friendly biofuel. It will be produced from agricultural residues such as grain straw, which will be sourced from local farmers. The plant will create new green jobs, business opportunities as well as economic growth in this rural area. The project is a crucial step towards introducing the innovative sunliquid® technology to the European market.