|A Biorefinery Research Environment|
|Sunday, 15 May 2011 17:50|
The research environment Bio4Energy aims to create highly efficient and environmentally-sound biorefinery processes—including methods and tools for making products such as biofuels, "green" chemicals and new bio-based materials—which draw on biomass sourced from forests or organic waste as a raw material.
At the core of Bio4Energy are two process platforms. The Bio4Energy Thermochemical and Biochemical Platforms are those who turn out new or improved processes for making advanced biofuels, such as dimethyl ether or second-generation bioethanol; new bio-based materials or "green" chemicals which, in turn, may be used as building blocks in bio-based plastics or pharmaceuticals, coatings, liners, adhesives or a number of other things.
The research environment also has a world-leading grouping which studies and develops the woody feedstock used in Bio4Energy's processes. Simply put, this Bio4Energy Feedstock Platform, hosted by Umeå Plant Science Centre, makes "better" trees. Being based in Scandinavia, a large part of which sits in the boreal belt, the foremost feedstock derives from spruce and pine trees, or residues from processes in which they are used, such as in the pulp and paper industry. However, varieties of poplar or hybrid aspen are also being studied and the question put whether these exotic tree species may be grown successfully on northern latitudes.
The Bio4Energy Pre-treatment and Fractionation Platform, and the Bio4Energy Catalysis and Separation Platform, for their part, are there to facilitate the journey that the energetic content of biomass must make for it to become a suitable for being converted to products, as well as a cost-competitive alternative to petrochemicals. Seemingly small inventions in these platforms may make all the difference in terms of the efficiency of the thermal or biochemical conversion of biomass to fuels or chemicals. The task then of the Bio4Energy Process Integration Platform is to make sure various processes, such as in a biorefinery, function with maximal efficiency in terms of energy use and as a unit. In a biorefinery a number of processes and their stream of primary and side products have to function efficiently together.
Finally the task of the Bio4Energy Environmental Platform is to check and make sure that the methods and tools being developed by the other six platforms have a low or no detrimental impact on the environment, with the aim of 'closing the loop' in terms of only inputting renewable raw materials and limiting noxious emissions to air, ground and water to a strict minimum. In the first operating period of Bio4Energy, 2010-2015, the Environmental Platform's dual foci were placed on system analysis assessing mainly climate change-inducing emissions of bio-based processes, on the one hand, and on limiting organic emissions at source, on the other. In a possible second mandate, 2015-2020, the perspective would expand to encompass resource efficiency along the value chain of biorefinery products and calculating the cost of various options for making sure biorefinery operations are sustainable.
One vision, many partners
Another promising line of research in Bio4Energy targets the capture and recycling of carbon dioxide (CO2), the international reference for greenhouse gases. New technologies for CO2 capture and reuse that rely on catalytic conversion are being invented. When it comes to development, Bio4Energy researchers have realised inventions which has led to new pilot facilities being installed (just off the campus of the lead organisation Umeå University) for pre-treating biomass by roasting it (torrefaction). Two other groups have made ample use of Sweden's only demonstration unit for bioethanol production, the SP Biorefinery Demo Plant at Örnsköldsvik. Yet others collaborate with Swedish pellet industry, characterising and modulating biomass materials at the Röbäcksdalen pilot facilities at Umeå. Further north, at Piteå, Bio4Energy researchers are an integral part of a team tasked with trialing, perfecting and upscaling production of biofuels made via the gasification route. At the LTU Green Fuels centre, "ultra" low-polluting dimethyl ether (or bioDME) fuel is made from a residual product of the pulping process, black liquor, using entrained-flow gasification technology.
Moreover research collaborations are underway with research organisations or groups in Europe as well as in the U.S.A., Australia, Canada, China, Russia, Taiwan, Japan and other countries. The Bio4Energy research programme is committed to sustainable resource use and aware of the European Union's efforts to combat climate change by lessening the reliance on fossil fuels and boosting the use of renewable energy. In particular, Bio4Energy works to align its practices on advice issued by the European Technology Platforms devoted to forests, plants and biofuels. Since early 2014, it is a member of the European Bio-based Industries' Consortium, which expects to see the birth by May 2014 of a Bio-based Industries' Joint Undertaking as a part of the European Union's Joint Technology Initiatives' process.
Bio4Energy was born in late 2009, when the Swedish government agreed to offer a constellation of 44 mostly Swedish biorefinery researchers its support for developing over five years a Strategic Research Environment, tasked with drawing together some of the best brains in bioenergy and biorefinery research and development, as well as create links and collaboration within the designed academic cluster and cooperation with industrial actors.
The government's generous support, topped up with contributions from the member universities and external funds won as a result of it, have allowed Bio4Energy to expand from the initial 44 to 235 researchers (in March 2014), originating from a number of countries but now affiliated with one or more of Bio4Energy's founding partners. In 2009, more than 20 industrial companies pledged their support for the creation of Bio4Energy by signing letters of endorsement.
Press and media are most welcome to contact Bio4Energy Communications by e-mail to:
or by phone at: +46 90 786 52 47 (weekdays).
We thank Bio4Energy, a strategic research environment appointed by the Swedish government, for supporting this work.
|Last Updated on Thursday, 17 April 2014 23:17|