Conceptual design of a dedicated-crop biorefinery for Jatropha curcas using a systematic sustainability evaluation

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Department of Chemical Engineering


The sustainability of two scenarios for the exploitation of Jatropha curcas biomass was assessed using a suitable sustainability framework. The first scenario, or base case (BC), was set up as a traditional biodiesel process with crude glycerin as the only co-product. The second scenario was a biorefinery plant (BR) that builds on the BC by including thermochemical transformations of lignocellulosic biomass into bio-oil, bio-char, and heat and power for internal consumption. The process lifecycle was divided in two stages: cultivation and transformation. The BC scenario was only sustainable in the Renewability category. Expanding the system to a biorefinery (BR scenario) improved performance on all other indicators. The biorefinery was also sustainable in the Economics, Community development, and Mitigation categories. None of the scenarios was sustainable in the fossils-based products Displacement category. The main areas for improvement were the use of water for irrigation, and the high inputs of agrochemicals (fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides). Seed yield is a critical variable that affects most sustainability indicators. The capital investment would be recovered after year 10 in the current economic context. The cultivation stage is largely responsible for the impacts of both cases as it contributes the most to the production costs (62–77%), environmental impacts, non-renewable energy consumption (66–68%), and freshwater consumption (97–98%). Hence, even though diversifying the products portfolio improves the values of all sustainability indicators, it is clear that optimizing the agronomic stage is crucial for attaining the sustainability of the overall system. © 2018 Society of Chemical Industry and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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Biofuels, Bioproducts and Biorefining