EU biorefinery researchers claim early successes

A quarter of the way through its four year span, researchers from EuroBioRef - the EU-funded European biorefinery project - say it has already produced useful results.

Key successes from the 23 million Euro project so far include the development of a pretreatment technology for lignocellulosic material which will now be evaluated in a pilot plant in Norway, and the synthesising of several products via catalytic processes, with the first samples now being tested for formulating aviation fuels and high value applications such as chemicals and polymers.

The aim of EuroBioRef - or to give it its full title, the European Multilevel Integrated Biorefinery Design for Sustainable Biomass Processing - is to get European industry ready to shift from oil-based to bio-based chemical feedstocks by integrating the whole biomass conversion chain into a collaborative bio-economy, from raw materials to the production of commercial chemicals. It involves 28 partners (industry, SMEs, academics) from 14 different countries, and includes crop production, biomass pre-treatment, fermentation and enzymatic processes, catalytic processes, thermochemical processes, plus a life cycle analysis and economic evaluation.

"The concept of this project is based on several principles that must be included in the new integrated and flexible biorefinery that bridges the gap between the agriculture and the chemical industries by providing a stream for a variety of biomass feedstocks, and producing a menu of finished green chemical products adapted to the future sustainable bio-economy-based European society," said project coordinator Prof Franck Dumeignil of France's Lille University.

Launched last year (see E&T magazine, vol 5 issue 5, page 13), the project now has field trials growing non-edible oil-bearing crops, plus low-input perennials and woody species for supplying the conversion units with lignocellulosic material. Prof Franck said that oil extraction has been performed for castor, jatropha and lunaria, and optimisation is under way; after harvesting, crambe, safflower, cuphea and lesquerella oils will be extracted as well.

He added that the project is developing a strategy for culture rotations and combinations in order to find synergies between edible and non-edible crops. In the case of non-edible crops, additional revenues for farming communities generated from new business, such as honey as well as silk production, are being investigated to increase local development and sustainability of the production.

EuroBioRef, which is supported by the EU 7th Framework Programme (FP7), said that demonstrations that are planned from next year. In the mean time, it will run a summer school titled “The concept of biorefinery comes into operation”, to train young researchers from academia and staff from industry in the latest scientific and technological aspects of biorefineries. The school will run on the 18-24th September 2011 in Castro-Apulia in Italy, and a textbook will be edited for the occasion.

Further information:
EuroBioRef Summer School (pdf)

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