A biorefinery, by analogy with a conventional oil refinery is an industrial plant that produces a wide range of molecules (industrial or energy products) from a source of renewable energy – biomass. The biomass-based products to obtain can be chemically equivalent to existing petrochemical products, and the market has already accepted them as replacement (“drop-in”), or may have a new feature and then a slower penetration in markets.
The biorefineries can be classified into two types:
Energy-based Biorefineries – These biorefineries are typically focused on a major energy product. The primary objective is the large-scale production of different energy products, i.e. biofuels, electricity and/or heat. Through the application of biochemical and/or thermochemical technologies for processing of biomass, these biorefineries are based on the use of non-food raw materials and extended availability at low cost, as in the case of biomass (e.g. forestry, agro-industrial, agricultural), biodegradable municipal waste, dedicated energy crops or microalgae. Its main advantage is to contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), for the reduction of organic waste deposition in landfills, and promote the improvement of energy efficiency and economic competitiveness of industrial value chains.
Non-energy based Biorefineries -These biorefineries are primarily directed for the obtaining of bioproducts and biomaterials from biomass, being only their by-products or wastes used for energy purposes. In fact, the competitiveness of a biorefinery is based on the balance between the production of bio-products and bio-materials of high value/low volume and high volume/low biofuels value.
The main activities under study, in partnership with companies, are:
Bench and pilot scale trials of different unit operations associated with biochemical or thermochemical based technologies; use of molecular and synthetic biology advanced tools for the construction of robust cell factories; development of bench and pilot scale enzymatic and fermentation processes; optimization of pilot scale technologies of gasification and pyrolysis; pilot-scale optimization of biomass fractionation by hydrothermal treatments, by steam explosion, acid hydrolysis or organosolv; integration of processes, mass and energy balances and biorefineries modelling; sustainability analysis based on methodologies for life-cycle analysis.