Biorefineries: adding value to the sustainable utilisation of biomass

Sep 2009

It is recognised by many countries that energy security, environmental concerns and the development of alternative, cleaner sources of chemicals and materials for manufacturing and user industries is becoming a driving imperative.
These are just some of the drivers for the development of sustainable energy and chemicals. The recent expansion of the bioenergy industries – power, CHP, gaseous energy carriers, and biofuels for transport – together with a strong increase in many commodity prices has raised concerns over the land use choices between energy needs and food and feed. This conflict may not be as obvious as the popular press has reported. The development of what we term ‘first generation’ biofuels may be seen as a necessary step in the advancement of technology to a more sustainable and environmentally benign system.
The cost of environmental damage due to production and use of fossil fuel energy and certain chemicals and materials leads us to the inevitable conclusion that new systems of production must be developed. These should focus on reduction of pollution or hazardous materials, producing safe and environmentally benign products in a green and sustainable supply chain. For this to occur, a constant and renewable supply that has a low carbon cost is required. Globally, the only source of such renewable feedstock is biomass.
This overview sets out to illustrate the developments in sustainable production for commercial, and close to commercialisation, energy carriers and co-products developed from biomass using biorefineries. Technology is developing rapidly in these areas. With the understanding that biomass contains all the elements found in fossil resources, albeit in different combinations, we can begin to understand that present and developing technologies can lead to a future based on renewable, sustainable and low carbon economies.

By: IEA Bioenergy

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