With the depletion of the fossil and natural resources and the need to shift to resource efficiency in developing a sustainable bio-economy is a key strategic priority for Europe. In addition, the challenge of climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions has led the EU to launch its own strategy in 2012 to transition away from the fossil-fuel economy, namely a bio-economy strategy Innovating for Sustainable Growth: a Bioeconomy for Europe. A bio-economy encompasses sustainable production of renewable biological resources and their conversion, as well as that of waste streams into bio-based products, biofuels and bioenergy. Developing a sustainable bio-economy to support the fuel’s and chemicals’ production of Europe is the goal of the EuroBioRef project (European Multilevel Integrated Biorefinery Design for Sustainable Biomass Processing). The EU Framework Seven funded project aims to revive Europe’s “currently fragmented” biomass sector by developing an integrated and commercially viable biomass production & upgrading system across the continent.
From biofuels to biochemicals-driven biorefineries
From a strategic perspective, it has been decided that EuroBioRef biorefineries should be chemicals/materials-driven, meaning that the best part of the biomass crops are being used to make high value chemicals and products, and that the residues are being used to produce energy, either consumed on-site or being exported under various forms. This is a rethinking of commonly admitted biorefineries concepts that are strongly biofuels-driven. “A new flexible biorefinery will bridge the gap between agricultural and chemical industries, providing a stream for various biomass feedstock and producing a menu of finished green chemical products,” says university professor and EuroBioRef project coordinator Franck Dumeignil.
Now two years into the project, the project has set up field crop trials. In the various test fields in Poland, Greece (example in Fig. 1) and Madagascar, lignocellulosic plants (willow, giant reed, miscanthus, switchgrass, cardoon) and oil crops (castor, crambe, safflower, lunaria, jatropha, as well as sunflower and rapeseed for comparison) were grown according to smart rotation strategies, and all of them have already been harvested for feasibility evaluations and, when relevant, for further downstream applications in the biorefinery. Among all the considered plants, further large test fields for demonstrations are being set with willow and crambe in Poland, giant reed and safflower in Greece and castor in Madagascar, while still working on other plants of interest for developing further potential applications.
The following steps of the project are in the pretreatment of the crops. Three different kinds of lignocellulosic materials (miscanthus, giant reed and switchgrass) were successfully tested in a new pretreatment process, showing its remarkable versatility. This motivated the construction of a brand new pilot plant in Norway (Fig. 2) that will be able to operate 50 kg of dry lignocellulosic materials per hour from mid 2012.
Field trials for oil crops in Greece, July 2011
Integrating multiple conversion pathways
The various plant constituents can be processed biologically, thermochemically or chemically using catalysts. However, a particularly focus of EuroBioRef’s work is the integration of such processes in a smart sequential way in order to transform the whole crop more effectively, explains Dumeignil.
In this respect, upgrading of the solid co-products issued from primary transformation of biomass was also evaluated, for example, by gasification, in specifically designed/constructed units. It was found some plants addressed by the project can be efficiently processed. As another way of upgrading the solid co-products of the biorefinery, carbonization to charcoal has been attempted on a wide range of different materials issued from the project. Some samples exhibit excellent properties, with a high specific surface area. The possible applications of such upgraded solids are investigated in the biorefinery concept. Indeed, they can be used as, e.g., absorbents or catalysts supports.
Model of the lignocellulosics fractionation pilot plant planned in Norway
Sustainability analysis and demonstration activities in the next months
For evaluating the sustainability of the envisioned solutions, EuroBioRef partners started the development of some specific tools for life cycle assessment (LCA) taking into account harmonisation efforts with major sister biorefinery projects in the EU.
These multilevel, multidisciplinary achievements are keystones for the further developments of the EuroBioRef concept that will be translated to a full set of demonstrations in the next coming months. For doing this, 6 value chains corresponding to 6 different scenarios of biorefineries integrating results and concepts developed in EuroBioRef have been designed, and are being now multidimensionaly assessed for the future demonstration and deployment in the Europe. This project hopes to assist Europe in developing sustainable biorefineries specifically designed for Europe’s needs and will thus help realise a sustainable bio-based bio-economy in the Europe.
project coordinator M. Franck DUMEIGNIL, CNRS-UCCS – firstname.lastname@example.org
The EuroBioRef project (European Multilevel Integrated Biorefinery Design for Sustainable Biomass Processing; www.eurobioref.org) a 4 years program coordinated by CNRS, France, was launched on March 1st, 2010. It is supported by a 23 M€ grant from the European Union 7th Framework Program (FP7). EuroBioRef deals with the entire process of transformation of biomass, from non-edible crops production to final commercial products. It involves 29 partners (industry, SMEs, academics) from 14 different countries in a highly collaborative network, including crop production, biomass pre-treatment, fermentation and enzymatic processes, catalytic processes, thermochemical processes, assessed by a life cycle analysis and an economic evaluation of the value chain.
This post is based on an article by Eibhilin Manning published in June 2012 in BE-Sustainable Magazine