Biorefineries

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

Biorefineries are facilities that can produce multiple products from biomass, including biofuels, biochemicals, and biomaterials. This integrated approach enhances the economic viability of biofuel production by diversifying product streams and reducing waste.

Impact on climate action

Biorefineries in the realm of Biofuels play a pivotal role in climate action by converting biomass into various valuable products, including biofuels. By optimizing resource use and reducing dependence on fossil fuels, these facilities mitigate carbon emissions, promote renewable energy, and foster a more sustainable energy economy.

Underlying
Technology

  • Biomass Conversion: Biorefineries use various technologies to convert biomass into different products. These technologies include fermentation, thermochemical conversion (e.g., pyrolysis and gasification), and biochemical processes.
  • Integrated Production: Biorefineries aim to integrate multiple production processes to maximize resource utilization and minimize waste. This involves using byproducts from one process as feedstocks for another, creating a more circular and sustainable production system.
  • Bio-Based Products: Biorefineries can produce a wide range of bio-based products, including biofuels, biochemicals (e.g., bioplastics and biopolymers), and biomaterials (e.g., bio-based fibers and composites).

TRL : 7-8

Prominent Innovation themes

  • Advanced Biomass Conversion Technologies: Innovations in biomass conversion technologies, such as consolidated bioprocessing and cell-free fermentation, are improving the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of biorefineries.
  • Integrated Biorefinery Design: Researchers and companies are developing integrated biorefinery designs that optimize the use of resources and minimize waste generation.
  • New Bio-Based Products: Research is ongoing to develop new bio-based products that can be produced from biomass, expanding the product portfolio of biorefineries and creating new market opportunities.
  • Digitalization and Process Optimization: Digital technologies and data analytics are being used to optimize biorefinery operations and improve efficiency and resource utilization.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Advanced Biomass Conversion Technologies
  • Integrated Biorefinery Design
  • Digitalization and Process Optimization
  • Waste Biomass Utilization
  • Biorefinery System Optimization
  • Biorefinery Supply Chain Efficiency
  • Biomass Valorization Techniques
  • Green Chemistry in Biorefineries
  • Biorefinery Energy Optimization
  • Multi-Product Stream Diversification
  • Carbon Capture and Utilization in Biorefineries
  • Biomass Pre-treatment Innovations

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  • POET:
    • Technology Enhancement: POET is a leading producer of biofuels and renewable chemicals, specializing in corn-based ethanol production and cellulosic ethanol technology. They utilize advanced fermentation and enzymatic processes to convert agricultural feedstocks into biofuels.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: POET’s biorefineries integrate traditional corn-based ethanol production with cellulosic ethanol technology, allowing for the production of biofuels from diverse feedstocks, including corn stover and other biomass residues.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: POET serves industries seeking renewable alternatives to petroleum-based fuels, including transportation, agriculture, and energy sectors. Their biofuels reduce greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on fossil fuels, contributing to a more sustainable energy future.
  • Abengoa:
    • Technology Enhancement: Abengoa develops and operates biorefineries for the production of biofuels, biochemicals, and bioproducts from agricultural and forestry residues. They utilize a range of conversion technologies, including biochemical and thermochemical processes.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Abengoa’s biorefineries are designed to maximize resource efficiency and product diversity, producing biofuels, chemicals, and materials from various feedstocks while minimizing waste and environmental impact.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Abengoa serves industries seeking sustainable alternatives to conventional fuels and chemicals, including transportation, chemicals, and manufacturing sectors. Their biorefineries offer a flexible and integrated solution for renewable resource utilization and value creation.
  • Amyris:
    • Technology Enhancement: Amyris specializes in synthetic biology and fermentation technology for the production of renewable chemicals and biofuels from plant sugars. They engineer microorganisms to produce target molecules with high efficiency and purity.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Amyris’ biorefineries enable the production of a wide range of renewable chemicals and biofuels, including specialty chemicals, flavors, fragrances, and drop-in replacements for petroleum-based fuels and chemicals.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Amyris serves industries seeking sustainable alternatives to conventional chemicals and fuels, including cosmetics, personal care, flavors, fragrances, and transportation sectors. Their renewable products offer performance advantages and environmental benefits over traditional counterparts.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign:
    • Research Focus: The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is a leader in biorefinery research, focusing on the development of integrated processes for converting biomass into a range of value-added products including biofuels, biochemicals, and bioproducts.
    • Uniqueness: Their research often involves the optimization of biorefinery feedstock selection, pretreatment methods, and conversion technologies such as fermentation, enzymatic hydrolysis, and thermochemical processes to maximize product yields and process efficiency.
    • End-use Applications: Their work has applications in bioenergy production, biobased materials, and chemical manufacturing. For example, they’re researching lignocellulosic biorefineries for producing bioethanol, bioplastics, and platform chemicals from agricultural residues, dedicated energy crops, and forestry residues.
  • Wageningen University & Research:
    • Research Focus: Wageningen University & Research is renowned for its expertise in biorefinery research, exploring innovative strategies for valorizing biomass resources and developing sustainable biorefinery concepts for the production of biofuels, biomaterials, and bioproducts.
    • Uniqueness: Their research often involves the integration of biological, chemical, and thermal conversion processes within biorefinery platforms, as well as the utilization of green chemistry principles and life cycle assessments to optimize process sustainability and environmental performance.
    • End-use Applications: Their work finds applications in agriculture, food, and bio-based industries. For instance, they’re researching lignocellulosic biorefineries for producing biofuels and biochemicals from agricultural residues and exploring cascading biorefinery approaches for maximizing resource utilization and minimizing waste generation.
  • Technical University of Munich (TUM):
    • Research Focus: TUM conducts cutting-edge research on biorefinery technologies, exploring novel approaches for converting lignocellulosic biomass, algae, and waste streams into biofuels, biopolymers, and specialty chemicals.
    • Uniqueness: Their research often involves the development of advanced reactor designs, catalytic processes, and biotechnological tools to enable efficient and selective conversion of biomass feedstocks into high-value products, as well as the integration of renewable energy sources for process heat and power.
    • End-use Applications: Their work has applications in bioenergy, green chemistry, and circular economy initiatives. For example, they’re researching algae biorefineries for producing biofuels and bioplastics from microalgae biomass, as well as lignocellulosic biorefineries for generating bioethanol, biobutanol, and lignin-based materials.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

Biorefineries revolutionize biofuel production by integrating multiple processes to convert biomass into a range of valuable products. Through fractionation and conversion technologies, biorefineries extract sugars, lipids, and other components from various feedstocks like crops, agricultural residues, and algae. These components are then converted into biofuels, biochemicals, and bioplastics, optimizing resource use and reducing waste. Biorefineries contribute to a sustainable circular economy, offering versatile solutions for energy, chemicals, and materials production.