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VERBIO Grain Ethanol Can Emit Up to 80% Less CO2 on Lifecycle Basis Than Gasoline

Greenhouse gas emissions of the individual ethanol production process steps. Red line is the German BioNachV basic value. Click to enlarge.

Bioethanol produced from grain (rye or wheat) by German biofuels producer VERBIO Vereinigte BioEnergie AG can emit up to 80% less CO2 than gasoline on a lifecycle basis, depending upon the feedstock and facility design, according to a study carried out by the Heidelberg IFEU Institute (Institute for Energy and Environmental Research) and commissioned by the VERBIO.

VERBIO is a leading producer and supplier of biodiesel and bioethanol in Europe, with nominal annual capacity of around 450,000 tonnes of biodiesel (~136 million gallons US) and 300,000 tonnes of ethanol (~100 million gallons US). The study examined ethanol production at VERBIO’s two facilities in Schwedt/Oder and Zörbig, with the aim of determining how much CO2 can be avoided under the prevailing production conditions. The results show that all the techniques and plants under investigation return significantly better CO2 savings than the 30% which are specified in the German Biomass Sustainability Ordinance (BioNachV).

For example, using the basic scenario based on the VERBIO AG business model, greenhouse gas reduction potentials between 40% (Schwedt DDGS rye) and 80% (Zörbig wheat) were determined. Even when disadvantageous values are used, as was the case in several sensitivity analyses, or when the framework conditions are changed, the basic value of 30% valid till 2010 is always achieved. With the exception of two cases, the basic value almost always fell below the 40% stipulated as of 2010.

—“Greenhouse Gas Balances for VERBIO Ethanol”

As the Zörbig plant also produces biogas by using the waste products from the primary production process, and the straw is used as a source of energy as well, this is where the highest CO2 savings are achieved: more than 80% compared with fossil fuels. In its study, the IFEU included all factors influencing the overall energy balance, including the recovery of fertilizer from the plants used.

Other findings from the report include:

  • Compared to rye, ethanol production from wheat leads to lower greenhouse gas emissions because a relatively low specific quantity of nitrogen fertilizers is estimated for wheat cultivation (as per the BioNachV ordinance).

  • Plant concepts with biogas production (Zörbig and Schwedt biogas) yield significantly better results than those with DDGS production (Schwedt DDGS), because the provision of energy for drying the stillage sludge to DDGS causes high emissions.

  • The comparison of the two plants with biogas production (energy production in Zörbig compared to preparation and feeding into the gas network in Schwedt) shows clear advantages for the Zörbig concept. Among other reasons, this is due to the fact that the process steam required is produced from biomass (straw) whereas all the process steam in Schwedt is provided via fossil fuels.

  • Grain cultivation (mainly due to the use of fertilizer) and processing (mainly due to energy provision) have a major influence on greenhouse gas emissions in the production chain of VERBIO ethanol.

  • Compared to the default values specified in the BioNachV ordinance, the values for VERBIO ethanol are very good, since the greenhouse gases emitted both during cultivation (due to straw sales and returning of digestate) and those emitted during generation of the process steam (with default values based on the use of lignite) are significantly smaller.

  • Using the latitude resulting from the BioNachV ordinance’s specifications leads to results that are very different to those of the basic scenario, but VERBIO ethanol still achieves the basic value of 30% in all these cases.

In December 2007, the German government passed a draft for the Biomass Sustainability Ordinance (BioNachV) within the scope of a climate and energy program [BioNachV 2007]. The ordinance is intended to ensure that biofuels meet certain sustainability criteria, and that they reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 30% on a lifecycle basis.




If wheat was used to produce 50% of the world current oil/fuel consumption (= about 43 million barrels/day), how much would a load of bread cost?

Could the GHG be reduced as much with non-food cellulosic ethanol?

Could we do even better with widespread use of PHEVs and BEVs?

Henry Gibson

Germany has painted itself into a corner. It is increasing its coalfired electric generation and releasing many more tons of CO2. It is simple to calculate that there is not enough grain or biomass production in Germany to meet a substantial part of its automotive energy demands. The lignite that the article mentions forms the basis of much of german energy. Braunkohlenbriketten were once stacked all over Berlin rail yards.

Plug-In-Hybrid cars are presently the most economical answer to the automotive fuel issues. Electricity can be shipped from anywhere in Europe as an undersea cable now brings energy from Norway to Holland most of the time. This cable can be used to send Dutch energy to Norway or even nuclear energy from France to Norway through Holland. Similar cables connect Germany to the north. France should be encouraged to supply nuclear electricity to Germany to run its Plug-In-Hybrid cars.

Both the production of ethanol and the production of gas from organic materials release much CO2 that would not be released if the grains and cellulose were turned to carbon and placed in the soil. Coal, turf(peat) and ordinary forest soil are all the result of the natural accumulation of organic materials over the years. In the cases of coal and turf not much CO2 is released over the years so there is a natural accumulation.

6HCOH gives 2H3CCH2OH and 2CO2
SUGAR gives 2 Ethanol and 2 Carbondioxide

6HCOH gives 3H4C and 3CO2
SUGAR gives 3 methane and 3 carbondioxide

There is obviously a saving of six carbon dioxide units per sugar unit if plant residues are left in peat bogs to be preserved for thousands or millions of years. Artificial and recreated peat bogs need to be constructed wherever possible to capture CO2; clean agricultural residues can also be placed in regulated quantities into such bogs.

There is No other answer to the cost effective reduction of green house gases than nuclear reactors. People must be reminded that the Sun is a nuclear reactor and also bombards the earth with much radioactivity and kills many people every year. Nuclear power reactors, including Chernobyl, have resulted in the demise of at most five or ten people a year. Highways and other streets combined with automobile are much better at this elimination than reactors as are airplanes. People also must be informed that they and all their ancestors and every plant and animal have about 50 built in nuclear explosions in every kilogram, two pounds, of their body every second. And if all of a persons electricity use over a lifetime were generated with nuclear reactors, that persons share of spent fuel rods would weigh one kilogram. All of the spent fuel rods of the whole world could be enclosed in one US super store with room to spare.

Nuclear electricity can displace carbon producing sources as well as become the energy source for new industries. In a short time nuclear energy from reactors will produce both food and fuels and now can displace both foods and fuels when used to heat houses so that people do not have to eat as much to keep warm.

Heat pumps can double or triple the heating effect of electricity. Gas engine powered heat pumps can double the energy that can be gotten from the natural gas. Energy efficiency legislation can reduce CO2 more than any use of grain by requiring in all cases cogeneration for the heating of buildings with natural gas. Most electric heating must also be replaced with heatpumps. This reduction of CO2 can be done far more cost effectively than with wind turbines or solar cells.

No new power plant should be built in Germany without district heating if Germany is serious about reducing green house gases. This also applies to nuclear power plants.

Nuclear reactors should be built 50 meters deep under every city for the production of steam heat alone. This would be very similar to geothemal heat, and the much lower pressure of operation would result in much lower costs. No cooling towers or water is needed as only heat is produced. The deep burial makes any failure of the reactor easy to contain, and even a Chernobyl type reactor failure, now impossible because of lower steam pressure, would cause no noticable surface effects and require no evacuation. Few or no human operators are needed for such a system.

Very long lived ductile iron pipe insulated with foam glass can make a system that would last for hundreds of years at reasonable costs and produce almost no green house gases.

The fields and forests and oceans of the world have been inadequate for two hundred years to supply the population of the world with industrial energy. The increase of the population of the earth has been solely possible through the use of fossil energy for more food production and transportation. ..HG..


This is more positive news for the GHG camp and it should be accepted as such. While we should continue to increase development of cellulosic ethanol production and eventually balance it against coarse grain ethanol - the following addresses land use issues.

"Despite increases in the amount of coarse grains being used for ethanol, the amount of land dedicated to coarse grains (corn, grain sorghum, barley, oats, rye, and millet) production globally has decreased over the past 30 years.

Global area for coarse grains has decreased eight per cent since 1980, while world grain ethanol production has increased dramatically.

Global coarse grains area peaked at 349 million hectares in 1981 and is estimated at 313 million hectares in 2008," according to the US Department of Agriculture."

The recent UN report on global food prices concluded that biofuel production worldwide has had minimal impact. The US DOE comes to the same conclusion (3-4.4% of a 40%+ increase)based on 2007-2008 International Monetary Fund (IMF)global food commodity price index.

Most of the recent food price increases are due to commodities speculators and petroleum prices - providing a sobering picture of the future for CO2 cap and trade schemes.


If wheat ethanol is so much better than corn ethanol(CO2-wise) why are Canadian ethanol producers importing corn from the US?

Kit P

Another good LCA out of the EU providing more evidence that ethanol can reduce the environmental impact of transportation fuel. Of course the Germans use CHP and diegesters into the design recycling the nutrients back to the soil.

Andrey Levin

Al vin:

Canada does produce small amount of ethanol from wheat, but only from sub-quality stock: damaged, soiled, spoiled grain and alike. Production of ethanol from good wheat is 2-3 times more expensive than from genetically modified high-yield feed corn.

How wheat ethanol is 4 times less CO2 extensive than corn ethanol is a secret of Enron-style CO2 emissions accounting, flourishing in Europe. Like the paradox of decreasing GHG emissions from EU, while consumption of oil, NG, and even coal in EU is increasing steadily.


Sooner or latter, the world will understand that massive use of high quality grains and other edible food products to produce ethanol to feed our gas guzzlers is not sustainable and not the right solution.

However, to use sub-quality (non-edible) products and/or agricultural, domestic, industrial, forest wastes, existing land fills etc to produce useful chemicals and liquid fuels may rid the earth of unwanted wilts and reduce fossil fuel consumption would be acceptable.


Agree Harvey. Which is why the push for cellulosic technology like Range Fuels and Coskata is so important. Even so, there needs to be some acceptance of the transitional period between sustainable liquid fuel types for the next two decades. By then, with concerted effort (like government purchasing PHEV fleets)we should see a 50-60% reduction in consumption of transportation fossil fuels.

Kit P

“How wheat ethanol is 4 times less CO2 extensive than corn ethanol is a secret of Enron-style CO2 emissions accounting, flourishing in Europe.”

I have to wonder if Andrey actually read the LCA. First, Andrey is making up stuff. The German LCA made no comparison to US corn facilities

Andrey Levin

Kit P:

I do not making up stuff. See, for example, here:

“…while mean values for Iowa Corn (Kernel) Ethanol production show moderate energy benefits, there is little to no GHG benefit when compared to gasoline consumption”

Compare with claim in the discussed article:

“Bioethanol produced from grain (rye or wheat) by German biofuels producer VERBIO Vereinigte BioEnergie AG can emit up to 80% less CO2 than gasoline on a lifecycle basis”



I agrre with you.

Use of (non-food) agro-fuels would only be sustainable and have significant effects on fossil liquid fuel consumption with massive introduction of PHEVs and BEVs.

However, it may take a long time (25+ years?) before most of the 600 + million ICE vehicles are replaced. The world may very well be making more ICE venicles in the next 10-15 years, adding to the current inventory.

It appears that the problem may get worse (with 1 + billion ICE vehicles) before it gets better.

Kit P

Andrey did you actually read the LCA? Simple question!

How the Germany company achieved their results are transparent. Read the LCA and learn.

Andrey if you want to question the ethics of folks by cherry picking a high number from one study and a low number form another study, then you are the one being unethical.

If you are interested in reducing the ghg from making ethanol reading the LCA would be worth your time.

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