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Biorefining – Introduction, Opportunities and Challenges. Robert Bevan European Innovation Manager . How biorefineries and green products will make their mark. What are Biorefineries?.

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Biorefining introduction opportunities and challenges
Biorefining – Introduction, Opportunities and Challenges

Robert Bevan

European Innovation Manager

How biorefineries and green products will make their mark

What are biorefineries
What are Biorefineries?

  • Biorefineries are facilities that convert biomass feedstocks to bio-based energy, fuels, materials and chemicals

Conversion Technologies

Biomass Feedstock

Product Stream

Sugar/Starch Crops:e.g. sugar cane / corn

Energy:e.g. heat, electricity

Thermal processes:e.g. pyrolysis, gasification

Oil Crops:e.g. rapeseed, soybean

Fuels:e.g.biodiesel, bioethanol, biogas

Chemical processes:e.g. classical catalysis

Lignocellulosic Biomass: e.g. forestry& agricultural wastes

Chemicals:e.g. bulk, intermediate, final

Biotransformation:e.g. fermentation, enzymatic catalysis

Industrial wastes: brewers spent grain, potato pealing's etc…


Classical Chemistry

Gasification / Pyrolysis

Oils / Syn-Gas

Existing Products

Brewers Spent Grain


Chemo- / Bio-Tech




Why are biorefineries important
Why are biorefineries important?

  • Growing demand for energy, fuel, materials and chemicals (growing market)

  • Finite availability of fossil fuel resources (continued price rises)

  • Overdependence of many countries on imported resources (national security)

  • Reality of climate change and need to reduce greenhouse gases (societal demand for eco-production)

  • Competitiveness within the global economy

  • Need to stimulate growth within rural economies

First generation biorefineries
First Generation Biorefineries

  • Target production of a single product stream from the biomass feedstock

  • A number of first generation biorefineries exist today:

    • Rapeseed oil to biodiesel

    • Sugar cane to bioethanol

    • Corn starch to polylactic acid

    • Gasification of biomass to syngas followed by chemo- / bio- transformation to bioethanol (INEOS)

Limitations of first generation biorefineries
Limitations of First Generation Biorefineries

  • Generate high volumes of by-products that have limited commercial value (e.g. animal feed, energy recovery)

  • Poor competitiveness compared to optimised petrochemical equivalents that derived multiple product streams and utilise ~100% of feedstocks

  • Require feedstock crops rich in the target sugar / starch / oil fraction, typically in competition with food (cereal, oilseed)

First generation biorefineries are largely being driven through legislative targets and favourable taxation for biofuels

Second generation biorefineries
Second Generation Biorefineries

  • Multiple product streams from sustainable biomass feedstocks – similar to petroleum refineries

  • Lignocellulose based biorefineries








  • Fuels

  • Platform & Intermediate Chemicals

  • Polymers



  • Functional food & feeds

  • Medicinal / pharma



  • Aromatic platform chemicals (BTX / vanillin)



  • Bio-resins

  • Functional additives


  • Organic / fatty acids

  • Resins



  • Essential oils

  • Phytosterols

Advantages of second generation biorefineries
Advantages of Second Generation Biorefineries

  • Complete valorisation of feedstocks, thereby:

    • enabling optimal use of available resources

    • generating highest value return

  • Integration of multiple processes leading to competitiveness in line with petrochemical refineries

  • Enable use of more sustainable feedstocks (agricultural, forestry & industrial wastes)

  • Viability at small to medium scale:

    • Flexible configuration (niche markets)

    • Rural development capitalising on regional diversity

Hemi-cellulsoe to functional food ingredients

Lignin to adhesives & additives

Brewers Spent Grain

Cellulose to biopolymer

Key limitations research challenges 1
Key limitations / Research Challenges (1)

  • Cost effective pre-treatment processes enabling recovery of all three lignocellulose fractions in a form suitable for subsequent downstream processing

  • Methodologies for the valorisation of hemicellulose:

    • Hemicellulases for controlled hydrolysis to building block sugars

    • Engineering of microorganisms enabling fermentation of C5 sugars

  • Methodologies for the controlled and selective depolymerisation and transformation of lignin to macromolecular and aromatic platform chemical product streams

Key limitations research challenges 2
Key limitations / Research Challenges (2)

  • Demonstration of potential for scale-up and integration of new and emerging technologies within existing and future biorefineries

  • End-user knowledge for use of the resulting bio-based chemicals and materials

  • Petrochemical:

  • Simple-reduced platform chemicals

  • Established processes for building up complexity

  • Strong end-user knowledge base for use

  • Bio-Based:

  • Complex multifunction -oxidised platform chemicals

  • Emerging non-optimised transformation processes

  • Limited end-user knowledge base for use


Case study 1 micrograss
Case Study 1 - MicroGrass

  • Microwave plasma pre-treatment process for the rapid breakdown of lignocellulose to sugars for fermentation of ethanol

  • Objectives:

    • Increased sugar yield = >90% (SOA = <40%)

    • Quicker Process = <0.5 days (SOA = ~2 days)

    • Reduced energy = <90% of existing processes

  • Result = prototype demonstrator

Case study 2 biosonic
Case Study 2 - BioSonic

  • Ultrasonically assisted organosolv pre-treatment of lignocellulose biomass targeting recovery of minimally degraded cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin fractions

  • Objectives:

    • Efficient recovery of all three fractions with minimal degradation

    • Quicker process times

    • Reduced energy consumption & cost

    • Environmentally friendly / non-toxic solvents

  • Result = prototype demonstrator

Case study 3 aquacell
Case Study 3 - AquaCell

  • A novel microbial fuel cell process for conversion of industrial organic wastewaters to value product streams (electricity & hydrogen)

  • Objectives:

    • Extract value from wastewater

    • Reduce energy and sludge disposal costs

    • Eliminate micro-pollutants and enable water re-use (non-potable)

  • Result = prototype demonstrator

Vision of the future
Vision of the Future

  • Companies will adopt biorefineries to valorise their waste, either directly or via centralised facilities

  • Second and third generation technologies will be key to success

  • Continued growth within biofuels market, but also those markets where biorefineries are able to make products better and/or cheaper

  • Biorefineries will help to drive global competitiveness and differentiation

Useful documents for further information
Useful Documents for Further Information

  • The Future of Industrial Biorefineries – World Economic Forum

  • European Biorefinery Joint Strategic Research Roadmap –

  • Bio-based Chemicals: Value Added Products from Biorefineries – IEA Bioenergy – Task 42 Biorefinery