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Biorefinery building blocks

Aston University is contributing to optimising the use of biomass as a partner in a new €13 million European biorefinery project.

The BIOSYNERGY project, sponsored by the European Commission, aims to make biomass derived products cost competitive with fossil fuels by developing and designing innovative biorefinery concepts.  BIOSYNERGY is a four year project, running from 1 January 2007 to 31 December 2010.  The website is currently under development: www.biosynergy.eu

Despite rising petrol prices, using biomass to produce transportation fuels, and to a lesser extent energy, is still more expensive than using traditional petrochemical resources.

However, a biorefinery can scale-up production and efficiency while cutting costs by making multiple products and maximising the value of the feedstock.  For example, a biorefinery could produce a number of high value chemicals, large volumes of liquid transport fuels and use the leftover energy to heat and power the plant.  The chemicals boost profitability, transport fuels replace some of the fossil fuels currently on the market, and reusing excess heat and power cuts carbon emissions further.

BIOSYNERGY's findings will be integrated into a lignocellulose-to-bioethanol pilot plant currently under construction in Salamanca, Spain.  The plant will be similar to Abengoa's Ecocarburantes bioethanol production facility in Cartagena, Spain.

Led by the Energy research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN), BIOSYNERGY comprises 17 academic and industrial partners from across Europe.

"We're developing concepts and carrying out supporting research to provide data to help implement a future biorefinery," said Tony Bridgwater, Head of Aston University's Bioenergy Research Group.

Researchers will use advanced fractionation and conversion processes for biomass and combine biochemical and thermochemical pathways to develop the most economical and environmentally sound solutions for large-scale bioenergy production.

Hans Reith, BIOSYNERGY Coordinator based at ECN said: "BIOSYNERGY aims to achieve sound techno-economic process development of integrated production of chemicals, transportation fuels and energy, from lab-scale to pilot plant. This project will be instrumental in the future establishment of biorefineries that can produce bulk quantities of chemicals, fuels and energy from a wide range of biomass feedstocks."

BIOSYNERGY will set-up pilot plants of the most promising technologies for a "bioethanol side-streams" biorefinery, in close collaboration with the lignocellulose-to-bioethanol pilot-plant of project partner Abengoa Bioenergy, currently under construction in Salamanca, Spain. 

Aston University will lead work to identify the optimum biorefinery based biomass-to-product chains for a future European bio-based economy, test and characterise biomass and lignin in its fast pyrolysis reactors, and produce a BIOSYNERGY Road Show to communicate results.

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