Multi-Scale Variability Analysis of Wheat Straw-Based Ethanol Biorefineries Identifies Bioprocess Designs Robust Against Process Input Variations
Journal article, 2020

Bioprocesses based on (ligno-)cellulosic biomass are highly prone to batch-to-batch variations. Varying raw material compositions and enzyme activities hamper the prediction of process yields, economic feasibility and environmental impacts. Commonly, these performance indicators are averaged over several experiments to select suitable process designs. The variabilities in performance indicators resulting from variable process inputs are often neglected, causing a risk for faulty performance predictions and poor process design choices during scale-up. In this paper, a multi-scale variability analysis framework is presented that quantifies the effects of process input variations on performance indicators. Using the framework, a kinetic model describing simultaneous saccharification and ethanol fermentation was integrated with a flowsheet process model, techno-economic analysis and life cycle assessment in order to evaluate a wheat straw-based ethanol biorefinery. Hydrolytic activities reported in the literature for the enzyme cocktail Cellic® CTec2, ranging from 62 to 266 FPU·mL−1, were used as inputs to the multi-scale model to compare the variability in performance indicators under batch and multi-feed operation for simultaneous saccharification and fermentation. Bioprocess simulations were stopped at ethanol productivities ≤0.1 g·L−1·h−1. The resulting spreads in process times, hydrolysis yields, and fermentation yields were incorporated into flowsheet, techno-economic and life cycle scales. At median enzymatic activities the payback time was 7%, equal to 0.6 years, shorter under multi-feed conditions. All other performance indicators showed insignificant differences. However, batch operation is simpler to control and well-established in industry. Thus, an analysis at median conditions might favor batch conditions despite the disadvantage in payback time. Contrary to median conditions, analyzing the input variability favored multi-feed operation due to a lower variability in all performance indicators. Variabilities in performance indicators were at least 50% lower under multi-feed operation. Counteracting the variability in enzymatic activities by adjusting the amount of added enzyme instead resulted in higher uncertainties in environmental impacts. The results show that the robustness of performance indicators against input variations must be considered during process development. Based on the multi-scale variability analysis process designs can be selected which deliver more precise performance indicators at multiple system levels.

life cycle assessment

system analysis

multi-scale model


uncertainty analysis


variability analysis

techno-economic analysis


David Nickel

Chalmers, Biology and Biological Engineering, Industrial Biotechnology

Rickard Fornell

RISE Research Institutes of Sweden

Mathias Janssen

Chalmers, Technology Management and Economics, Environmental Systems Analysis

Carl Johan Franzén

Chalmers, Biology and Biological Engineering, Industrial Biotechnology

Frontiers in Energy Research

2296-598X (eISSN)

Vol. 8 55

Subject Categories

Transport Systems and Logistics

Chemical Process Engineering

Other Civil Engineering



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