Biorefineries in Biomass for Heating & Power

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

A biorefinery is a facility that integrates biomass conversion processes and equipment to produce multiple products from biomass, including biofuels, bio-based chemicals, and biomaterials. Biorefineries aim to maximize resource utilization and create a more sustainable and circular economy by utilizing biomass as a renewable feedstock.

Impact on climate action

Biorefineries in Biomass for Heating & Power advance climate action by converting biomass into renewable heat, power, and biofuels. By replacing fossil fuels with sustainable alternatives, these facilities mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, reduce reliance on non-renewable resources, and accelerate the transition to a low-carbon energy system.


  • Biomass Conversion Technologies: These technologies convert biomass into various products. Examples include:
    • Biochemical conversion: This process uses enzymes or microorganisms to break down biomass into sugars, which can then be fermented into biofuels or other bio-based chemicals.
    • 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: Biorefineries integrate different biomass conversion processes to maximize resource utilization and product yields.
  • Circular Economy Principles: Biorefineries are based on the principles of the circular economy, which aims 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 : 7-8

Prominent Innovation themes

  • Advanced Biomass Conversion Technologies: Researchers and startups are developing more efficient and cost-effective biomass conversion technologies, such as advanced fermentation methods and innovative gasification processes.
  • Integrated Biorefinery Design: Innovations in biorefinery design and process integration are maximizing resource utilization and product yields, improving the economic viability of biorefineries.
  • Bio-Based Product Development: Researchers and companies are developing new bio-based products, such as bioplastics and bio-based chemicals, that can be produced from biomass in biorefineries.
  • 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

  • Advanced Biorefinery Design and Optimization
  • Novel Biomass Conversion Techniques
  • Circular Economy Integration in Biorefineries
  • Next-Generation Bio-Based Products
  • Digital Solutions for Biomass Supply Chains
  • Enhanced Biomass Fermentation Processes
  • Innovative Biomass Gasification Technologies
  • Biomass-Derived Biofuels and Chemicals
  • Integrated Biorefinery Systems
  • Synthetic Biology Applications in Biorefineries
  • Biomass Waste Utilization Solutions
  • Biorefinery Process Integration Innovations
  • Renewable Energy Integration in Biorefineries
  • Biomass-to-Bioplastics Innovations
  • Biomass Valorization Strategies
  • Advanced Monitoring and Control Systems for Biorefineries
  • Biorefinery Scale-up and Commercialization Efforts

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  • POET:
    • Technology Enhancement: POET is a leading producer of biofuels and bioproducts, specializing in the conversion of biomass into renewable fuels such as ethanol and other high-value products. Their biorefineries utilize advanced biochemical and thermochemical processes to convert agricultural feedstocks such as corn into biofuels, animal feed, and biochemicals.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: POET stands out for its integrated approach to biorefining, combining innovative process technologies with sustainable agricultural practices to produce renewable fuels and chemicals. Their commitment to research and development has enabled them to optimize production processes and expand their product portfolio, contributing to the transition to a low-carbon economy.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: POET serves the transportation, agriculture, and chemical industries seeking sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels and petrochemicals. Their biofuels are used as a cleaner-burning alternative to gasoline in vehicles, while their biochemicals find applications in various industries, including cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and plastics.
  • Abengoa:
    • Technology Enhancement: Abengoa is a global leader in the development and operation of biorefineries, specializing in the production of biofuels, biomaterials, and biochemicals from renewable feedstocks. Their biorefinery technology includes advanced processes such as biomass pretreatment, fermentation, and enzymatic hydrolysis to convert lignocellulosic biomass into ethanol, biodiesel, and other value-added products.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Abengoa stands out for its expertise in scaling up and commercializing advanced biorefinery technologies, enabling the production of biofuels and biomaterials on a large scale. Their integrated approach to biorefining encompasses feedstock sourcing, process optimization, and product distribution, driving sustainability and economic development in the regions where they operate.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Abengoa serves energy companies, governments, and industrial customers seeking renewable alternatives to fossil fuels and petrochemicals. Their biofuels are used in transportation fuels, while their biomaterials find applications in industries such as construction, packaging, and textiles.
  • Amyris:
    • Technology Enhancement: Amyris is a biotechnology company specializing in the development of renewable chemicals and bio-based products through synthetic biology and fermentation processes. Their biorefineries produce a wide range of renewable molecules, including biofuels, specialty chemicals, and ingredients for personal care and nutrition.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Amyris stands out for its proprietary technology platform, which enables the production of high-value molecules from renewable feedstocks such as sugarcane, corn, and cellulose. Their approach to biorefining involves engineering microorganisms to produce target molecules efficiently, enabling the creation of sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based products.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Amyris serves consumer goods companies, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and energy companies seeking renewable alternatives to petroleum-derived chemicals. Their bio-based products are used in cosmetics, fragrances, flavors, and specialty chemicals, offering performance advantages and environmental benefits compared to traditional ingredients.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  • Technical University of Munich (TUM):
    • Research Focus: TUM is a leader in research on Biorefineries, focusing on the conversion of biomass into high-value products such as biofuels, biochemicals, and bioproducts through integrated and sustainable biorefinery processes.
    • Uniqueness: Their research encompasses the development of novel biomass pretreatment methods, catalytic conversion technologies, and process engineering strategies for maximizing the efficiency, yield, and sustainability of biorefinery operations. They also investigate the valorization of lignocellulosic biomass, agricultural residues, and waste streams into renewable fuels, platform chemicals, and biodegradable materials.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work have applications in bioenergy production, renewable chemicals manufacturing, and circular economy initiatives. By leveraging biorefinery technologies, TUM’s research contributes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, promoting rural development, and enhancing resource efficiency in the biomass-to-energy value chain.
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign:
    • Research Focus: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign conducts innovative research on Biorefineries, leveraging its expertise in agricultural engineering, bioprocessing, and sustainability science to advance the development and deployment of integrated biorefinery platforms.
    • Uniqueness: Their research involves the optimization of biomass feedstock selection, preprocessing techniques, and biochemical conversion pathways to maximize the conversion efficiency and economic viability of biorefinery systems. They also explore the integration of advanced separation, purification, and valorization techniques to produce a diverse range of value-added products from biomass resources.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work find applications in bio-based industries, bioenergy markets, and rural economic development. By integrating biorefinery concepts into biomass utilization strategies, University of Illinois’s research supports the transition to a bio-based economy, enabling sustainable production of fuels, chemicals, and materials from renewable feedstocks.
  • Wageningen University & Research:
    • Research Focus: Wageningen University & Research is engaged in cutting-edge research on Biorefineries, leveraging its interdisciplinary expertise in biotechnology, process engineering, and environmental sciences to develop innovative solutions for biomass valorization and bioproducts manufacturing.
    • Uniqueness: Their research encompasses the development of biocatalytic conversion routes, fermentation technologies, and biorefinery bioreactors for converting lignocellulosic biomass, algae, and agricultural residues into bio-based fuels, plastics, and pharmaceuticals. They also explore the optimization of biorefinery supply chains, resource efficiency, and sustainability metrics to minimize environmental impacts and maximize economic benefits.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work have applications in bioenergy production, bioplastics manufacturing, and sustainable agriculture. By advancing biorefinery technologies, Wageningen’s research supports the transition to a circular bioeconomy, where renewable resources are efficiently utilized, waste streams are valorized, and environmental footprints are minimized.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

Several commercial-scale biorefineries are already in operation around the world, producing biofuels and other bio-based products. For example, POET operates several biorefineries in the United States that convert corn into ethanol and other products.