Advanced Biorefineries

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

Advanced biorefineries are facilities that utilize innovative technologies and processes to convert biomass into a wide range of valuable products, including biofuels, bio-based chemicals, biomaterials, and bioenergy. These biorefineries go beyond traditional biofuel production by maximizing resource utilization and creating a more diverse and sustainable product portfolio.

Impact on climate action

Advanced Biorefineries in Agro-Waste Management bolster climate action by converting agricultural waste into valuable products like biofuels, chemicals, and fertilizers. By reducing waste pollution, decreasing reliance on fossil fuels, and promoting circularity, this innovation mitigates carbon emissions and fosters a sustainable agricultural ecosystem.


  • Biomass Feedstocks: Advanced biorefineries utilize a variety of biomass feedstocks, including agricultural residues, forestry waste, dedicated energy crops, and algae.
  • Biomass Conversion Technologies: These technologies convert biomass into various products through biochemical or thermochemical processes. Examples include:
    • Biochemical Conversion: Enzymatic hydrolysis, fermentation, and other biochemical processes are used to convert biomass into sugars, which can then be further processed into biofuels, bio-based chemicals, and other products.
    • Thermochemical Conversion: Processes like pyrolysis and gasification convert biomass into bio-oil, syngas, and biochar, which can be used as fuels or feedstocks for chemicals and materials.
  • Process Integration and Optimization: Advanced biorefineries integrate different biomass conversion processes to maximize resource utilization and product yields. This involves optimizing process parameters, minimizing waste generation, and utilizing byproducts from one process as inputs for another.
  • Circular Economy Principles: Advanced biorefineries are designed with circular economy principles in mind, aiming to eliminate waste and keep resources in circulation.
  • Sustainable Biomass Sourcing: Biorefineries need to source biomass feedstocks from sustainably managed forests and agricultural lands to ensure environmental sustainability.

TRL : 6-8 (depending on the specific technology and application)

Prominent Innovation themes

  • Advanced Biomass Pretreatment Technologies: Innovations in biomass pretreatment technologies, such as ionic liquids and steam explosion, are improving the efficiency and effectiveness of breaking down biomass for further processing.
  • Next-Generation Biofuel Production Technologies: Advanced fermentation methods, synthetic biology, and other innovative technologies are being developed to improve the efficiency and sustainability of biofuel production.
  • Bio-Based Chemical and Material Production: Researchers and companies are developing new bio-based chemicals and materials, such as bioplastics, bio-based adhesives, and bio-based solvents, that can be produced from biomass in biorefineries.
  • Integrated Biorefinery Design and Optimization: Advanced modeling and simulation tools are being used to optimize the design and operation of biorefineries, maximizing resource utilization and product yields.
  • Digital Platforms for Biomass Supply Chain Management: Digital platforms can be used to track and trace biomass materials throughout the supply chain, ensuring transparency and responsible sourcing for biorefineries.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Expanding Feedstock Options through Biomass Diversity
  • Integrated Process Optimization
  • Circular Economy Integration
  • Sustainable Sourcing Strategies
  • Next-Gen Pretreatment Technologies
  • Advanced Fermentation Techniques
  • Novel Bio-Based Chemicals
  • Biorefinery Modeling & Simulation
  • Digital Biomass Management Platforms
  • Gas Fermentation Innovations
  • Catalytic Fast Pyrolysis Breakthroughs
  • Bio-Based Material Development
  • Synthetic Biology Applications
  • Metabolic Engineering Advancements
  • Gasification Integration Strategies
  • Sustainable Biofuel Production Models
  • Efficient Bioenergy Utilization
  • Waste-to-Value Solutions
  • Global Biorefinery Initiatives

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  1. LanzaTech:
    • Technology Enhancement: LanzaTech specializes in carbon recycling and sustainable fuel production through gas fermentation. Their technology converts carbon-rich waste gases, such as industrial emissions or agricultural residues, into valuable products like ethanol and other chemicals using microbial fermentation.
    • Uniqueness: LanzaTech’s approach is unique in its ability to address both environmental and economic challenges by turning waste carbon into valuable commodities. Their technology offers a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, mitigate industrial waste, and produce sustainable fuels and chemicals, contributing to the circular economy.
    • End-User Segments: LanzaTech targets industries with significant carbon emissions, such as steel manufacturing, oil refining, and chemical production. Their technology appeals to companies looking to reduce their carbon footprint, comply with regulations, and diversify their product offerings with sustainable alternatives.
  2. Anellotech:
    • Technology Enhancement: Anellotech specializes in developing bio-based aromatics through a proprietary thermal catalytic biomass conversion technology known as Bio-TCat™. This process converts non-food biomass feedstocks, such as agricultural residues or forestry waste, into valuable chemicals like benzene, toluene, and xylene (BTX).
    • Uniqueness: Anellotech’s Bio-TCat™ technology offers a sustainable alternative to petroleum-based aromatics, which are essential building blocks for various products including plastics, resins, and fibers. By utilizing renewable biomass feedstocks, Anellotech aims to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and mitigate the environmental impacts associated with traditional petrochemical production.
    • End-User Segments: Anellotech targets industries that rely on aromatics for manufacturing, including plastics, packaging, textiles, and chemicals. Their technology appeals to companies seeking to enhance their sustainability profile, reduce their carbon footprint, and meet growing consumer demand for eco-friendly products.
  3. Origin Materials:
    • Technology Enhancement: Origin Materials specializes in developing bio-based materials and chemicals through the conversion of sustainable feedstocks like wood, agricultural residues, and industrial waste into valuable products such as bio-based PET (polyethylene terephthalate) and PEF (polyethylene furanoate).
    • Uniqueness: Origin Materials’ technology offers a scalable and cost-effective solution for producing bio-based materials that are chemically identical to their petroleum-based counterparts. By utilizing renewable feedstocks, Origin Materials aims to reduce the environmental impact of plastics and chemicals production while offering performance advantages and compatibility with existing supply chains.
    • End-User Segments: Origin Materials serves industries that rely on plastics and chemicals, including packaging, textiles, automotive, and consumer goods. Their technology appeals to companies seeking to transition to more sustainable materials, reduce dependence on fossil fuels, and meet regulatory requirements related to environmental sustainability.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  1. Technical University of Munich (TUM):
    • Research Focus: TUM is a leader in the field of Advanced Biorefineries, focusing on developing innovative technologies for the conversion of agro-waste into high-value bio-based products, including biofuels, biochemicals, and biopolymers.
    • Uniqueness: Their research involves the integration of biochemical, thermochemical, and biotechnological processes to efficiently valorize diverse biomass feedstocks, such as agricultural residues, food waste, and forestry residues. They also explore novel catalysts, enzymes, and bioreactor designs to enhance conversion yields, process efficiency, and product purity in biorefinery operations.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work find applications in bioenergy production, green chemistry, and sustainable materials manufacturing, enabling the development of renewable alternatives to fossil fuels, petrochemicals, and plastics. By advancing Advanced Biorefinery technologies, TUM’s research contributes to reducing reliance on finite resources, mitigating environmental pollution, and promoting circular bioeconomy principles.
  2. University of California, Berkeley:
    • Research Focus: University of California, Berkeley conducts innovative research on Advanced Biorefineries, leveraging its expertise in chemical engineering, molecular biology, and environmental science to develop scalable and sustainable approaches for agro-waste valorization.
    • Uniqueness: Their research encompasses the development of integrated bioprocesses, biocatalysts, and microbial consortia for the efficient conversion of lignocellulosic biomass, agricultural residues, and organic waste streams into value-added products. They also investigate process intensification strategies, including continuous flow reactors, solid-state fermentation, and downstream processing innovations, to enhance productivity and resource efficiency in biorefinery operations.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work have applications in bio-based chemicals, renewable materials, and biodegradable plastics, supporting the transition to a more sustainable and circular economy. By pioneering Advanced Biorefinery technologies, UC Berkeley’s research addresses key challenges in agro-waste management, climate change mitigation, and resource conservation, fostering economic growth and environmental stewardship.
  3. Wageningen University & Research:
    • Research Focus: Wageningen University & Research is engaged in cutting-edge research on Advanced Biorefineries, with a focus on developing holistic and resource-efficient solutions for the valorization of agricultural by-products, residues, and co-products.
    • Uniqueness: Their research involves the integration of bioprocess engineering, biomass pretreatment, and downstream processing technologies to maximize the recovery of valuable components from agro-industrial streams. They also explore the utilization of multi-feedstock approaches, biorefinery co-location strategies, and biogenic carbon capture techniques to enhance sustainability and economic viability.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work find applications in bio-based fuels, platform chemicals, and functional ingredients for food, feed, and pharmaceutical industries, contributing to the development of a bio-based circular economy. By advancing Advanced Biorefinery technologies, Wageningen’s research supports the valorization of agricultural residues, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and fosters rural development and agricultural diversification.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

Several advanced biorefinery projects are under development or in the early stages of commercial operation. For example, the Beta Renewables plant in Italy converts non-food biomass into cellulosic ethanol, while the Enerkem Alberta Biofuels facility in Canada converts municipal solid waste into biofuels and chemicals.