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FUR4Sustain Meeting

  /  innovative   /  Biorefineries: A step towards sustainable future

Biorefineries: A step towards sustainable future

We live in a time when the world is overwhelmed with concerns such as climate change, population increase, rising global energy demand, and the potential scarcity of fossil resources. These difficulties compel us to look for ways to replace petroleum- based resources, used in the production of energy and materials, with sustainable ones. Biomass is one of the main candidates for petroleum replacement. Basically, the plan is to produce everyday items (plastic bottles and containers, gasoline, drugs, coatings, etc.) from plants, trees, and algae. But how is it done?

The biorefinery concept explained

A biorefinery is a facility that integrates biomass conversion processes and equipment to produce fuels, energy, and value-added chemicals from biomass. Biorefinery is analogous to today’s petroleum refinery, which produces multiple fuels and products from petroleum. By producing several products, a biorefinery takes advantage of the various components in biomass and their intermediates, therefore maximizing the value derived from the biomass raw materials.

However, modern advanced biorefinery concepts aim at valorising a wide variety of biobased raw materials which can be obtained from biomass as well as biomass residue, transforming them into a broad range of bioproducts and bioenergy with reduced environmental impact compared to the petroleum-based products.

This concept is a step forward to creating a sustainable and ecologically beneficial economy. Development and implementation of innovative biorefinery processes using organic non-food lignocellulosic resources like wood and straw are of special interest to us since they can help us address global concerns while minimizing the effects on the food and fodder markets.

Key factors for the economic and environmental evaluation of commercial
biorefinery concepts

On the path to commercializing a novel bio-based process that shows immense potential at the laboratory scale, many innovators meet various difficulties. These difficulties mostly relate to the process’s economical, technological, and sustainable aspects. It is obvious that for successful technology implementation it is not enough that process utilize biomass as raw materials. The novel process should demonstrate that it is environmentally and economically feasible in addition to being biobased. The quality and market price of the bioproduct must at least be comparable to or better than those of a product from a conventional process in order for it to be competitive.

The fact that these difficulties are all intricately intertwined together should not come as a surprise. What actions can be taken to overcome the difficulties?

The cascade approach should be taken into consideration in every novel biorefinery process to ensure an environmentally benign, economically viable, and sustainable use of biomass. In the cascading approach, the most valuable products are made first, followed by the use of side streams to produce a second product, and so on, leaving behind the process waste for the production of bioenergy and biofuels. This approach improves resource efficiency by viewing biomass as a component of the bioeconomy.

Skilled engineering is essential to understand the principles, promote security and availability, optimize material and energy efficiency, and improve profitability in the current and following process phases, especially when developing new technologies.

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