Cassava Ethanol Production: Costs, Competitiveness, and Market Dynamics

The final costs of ethanol from cassava are the sum of cassava cultivation, cassava processing into dried chips, and ethanol conversion.

Total ex distillery costs are €0.47 per liter which is about the same as for wheat ethanol.

Costs for cassava tuber production contribute most to overall production costs.

Taking into account that imports from APC countries face no import tariff, cassava ethanol could sell at competitive prices in Europe.

Cassava ethanol production costs

Economic analyses on cassava ethanol production are scarce. The core part of this section is based on one study, by Nguyen et al. (2006) for Thailand.

For the African context, we assume that the industrial parts of the supply chain will eventually have similar efficiencies and costs since the technology could be imported from other countries.

On the agricultural part of the supply chain, initially, lower yields can be expected, but it is not clear how this will impact the feedstock costs.

Therefore, we assume that the Thailand analysis can be used as an example for cassava ethanol production in Africa, but that the results should be used with care.

Additional research would be needed to judge the viability of cassava ethanol in Africa.

The cost of cassava ethanol is the sum of the following process costs:

  • Cassava cultivation. This involves land preparation, planting, crop maintenance (fertilization, weed control), and harvesting.
  • Cassava processing into dried chips.
  • Ethanol conversion, milling, mixing and liquefaction, saccharification and fermentation, and distillation/dehydration.

The costs of cultivation, processing and ethanol production are summarized in this table:

Specific costs and conversion efficienciesEthanol production cost (€/litre ethanol)
Production costs of cassava roots(1)20.1 – 23.5 €/tonne roots0.164
Prof it for farmers(2)3.8 – 8.8 €/tonne roots0.047
Cassava chips yield(3)0.4 tonne chips/tonne roots
Processing costs(3)3.4 €/tonne chips0.010
Prof its, margins, transportation(4)12.4– 18.5 €/tonne chips0.046
Ethanol yield(5)333 l ethanol/tonne chips
Processing costs(5)0.131 €/l ethanol0.131
Margin(5)0.075 €/l ethanol0.075
Ethanol ex distillery
Table: cost analysis of cassava ethanol (data by Nguyen et al 2006)

Data in the table:

(1) Thai Baht (2006) = 0.0206 Euro (2006) (X-rates 2007).

(2) Farmers get an average profit of about 183 to 427 THB/tonne depending on the product market price

(3) The total production cost of cassava chips is 3,300 THB/tonne; 95% of this cost is due to the cost of 2.5 tonnes of cassava roots, whereas processing cost makes just 5%.

(4) The price of cassava chips ranges from 3,700 – 4,000 THB/tonne on the open market, after adding profit margin, taxes, etc. When including transportation costs, the feedstock at the plant gate costs 3,900 – 4,200 THB/tonne chips.

(5) Conversion rate is 333 liters of ethanol per tonne of cassava chips according to Nguyen et al. USDA mentions 155 liters of anhydrous ethanol per tonne (USDA 2007), but considering that Cassava is one of the starch-richest crops, we assume that the estimation of Nguyen et al. is correct.

A detailed breakdown of the feedstock cultivation cost is shown in the table below. It demonstrates that fertilizer contributes significantly (i.e 25%) to the overall costs.

Percentage (%)
Land preparation12
Fertilizer 25
Transportation 11

A detailed breakdown of the distillery costs is given in the table below. The feedstock, including margins, transportation costs, and market effects, accounts for 54% of ethanol production costs.

Percentage (%)
Profit margin17
Wages, salary, and insurance7
Repair and maintenance1

There are several options that slightly improve the economics of the ethanol production from cassava:

  • The ethanol conversion produces a sludge residue, which, in principle, is a good soil conditioner and which could be sold to cassava farmers. To realize this option it is necessary to dewater the sludge, which implies a small additional cost to the distillery.
  • Fuel oil, used for heat and electricity generation for the distillery could be replaced by much cheaper rice husk.

These options could decrease the production costs of cassava ethanol by about 5 Eurocent/liter.

Comparison with ethanol from other feedstocks

Both ethanol from maize in the United States and ethanol from sugar cane in e.g. Brazil can be produced at lower costs than ethanol from cassava, i. e 0.47€/l.

However, cassava ethanol has a favorable pricing position in comparison with wheat and sugar beet ethanol in Europe.

The table below shows the production costs of ethanol from other feedstock:

Calculated costs (€/l)(1)Market price (€/l)(2)
Ethanol from sugar beet0.54
Ethanol from wheat0.47
Ethanol from cassava0.47
Ethanol from maize0.400.37
Ethanol from sugar cane0.210.24

(1) Hamelinck (2007) calculated the production costs on basis of wheat ethanol in Europe 22 F/GJLHV, sugar beet ethanol in Europe 26 F/GJLHV, maize ethanol in USA 19 F/GJLHV and sugar cane ethanol in Brazil 10 F/GJLHV. The energy content is 26.4 GJLHV/tonne, density 791 kg/m3.

(2) Sugar cane ethanol (FOB Port of Santos) and maize ethanol (US national rack average) market prices August 2007 from

Ethanol import to the EU from ACP countries

Generally, ethanol imports to Europe are subject to import tariffs. Depending on the nature of the ethanol, denatured (undrinkable) or undenatured (still drinkable), a low or high tariff is applied.

Imports from some countries are subject to a lower or even a zero tariff. For E.g. ethanol imports from the so-called ACP countries (Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific Ocean) face no import tariffs.

Imports from Brazil are applicable to the all-in import tariff. Depending on the form of the ethanol the costs are increased by 0.102 or 0.192 €/l.

Depending on the biofuels regulation in the destination country, it could be necessary to import ethanol in undenatured form, in order to receive excise exemptions or to count for biofuels obligations.

Because of zero tariffs, it can be deduced that ethanol imports from ACP countries are favorable. Ethanol produced from cassava in these countries is likely to be sold in Europe at a competitive price.

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