Is the efficient and sustainable biorefinery of the future challenged by the low price of oil and gas and the lack of a political framework that encourages bio-based production in the long term? Yes. Have actors in the sector shut up shop while waiting for conditions to be right for launching the bioeconomy? Not at all.
Judging from developments in Sweden, a precursor country in terms of biorefinery development based on woody materials and organic waste, great strides are being made in industry and academia to pave the way for a transition from an economy heavily reliant fossil fuels and materials based on petrochemicals, towards a bioeconomy. A few such developments were highlighted yesterday at a seminar at Umeå, in northern Sweden, on Feedstock for Sustainable Biofuel Production, by the Swedish Knowledge Centre for Renewable Transportation Fuels (f3 Centre), the research environment Bio4Energy and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.
The forestry and hygiene products company SCA is making bio-based hydrocarbons from black liquor from its own pulping processes, and demonstrating a new value chain at a pilot plant attached to its pulp mill at Obbola, in northern Sweden, the seminar heard. A smaller firm but with an international reach, SweTree Technologies, literally is making trees; such that more easily render their energy-dense carbohydrates, stored in the wood, for use in products such as biofuel. SweTree Technologies is carrying out field trials, focusing on hybrid aspen and poplar, “with the eucalyptus market in sight”, according to its representative.
And while, in the research environment Bio4Energy, scientists and companies are developing methods and tools for advanced biofuel production, the research programme Future Forests provides decision-makers with studies on future scenarios for bioenergy production. Since a few years there is also the f3 Centre aiming to connect actors in the sector and, through its calls for proposals for research funding, bring together scientist and consultants from organisations which otherwise would be competitors, in projects to assess the impact of adopting different routes or systems for biofuel production.
Sixty-five people from industry, academia, research institutes and Swedish authorities attended the seminar 6 February, and many of them also joined the attached guided tours to the Biomass Technology Centre at Umeå and Industrial Demonstration Unit for Torrefaction at Holmsund.