6499 The Biorefining Story: Progress in the Commercialization of Biomass to Fuels

Friday, February 17, 2012: 1:30 PM
Room 118 (VCC West Building)
John N. Saddler , University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Continued global insecurity around oil supplies has helped keep oil prices volatile and realtively high, influencing the ongoing and significant investment in both conventional (sugar-, starch-, plant oil- and animal oil-derived ethanol and diesel) and advanced (biomass derived or “drop-in” like) biofuels and chemicals. It is likely that “pioneer” advanced biofuel plants will first use biomass residues as their initial feedstock, as it is curently difficult to justify the investment in energy crops when there is no clear market for their use. It is also likely that agriculture-based advanced biofuel plants will be predisposed towards using a biochemically based process as sugar- and starch-based processes already use much of the equipment and processes that are condusive to the use of enzymes and microorganims. In contrast, wood-based processing such as in pulp and paper manufacturing will be predisposed to using thermochemically-based processes, which build on already existing expertise in areas such as combustion, gasification and pyrolysis.

The biorefinery concept has been proposed as a means to extract maximum value from lignocellulosic materials, with the higher value physical/chemical components used for biomaterials and  chemicals and whatever is left used for bioenergy/biofuel production. The continued development of new conversion technologies has encouraged these nascent, newer biorefineries to assess a range of lignocellulosic feedstocks with the hope of producing  additional value-added bioproducts and more efficient recovery of bioenergy. There are a number of complementary platforms for processing lignocellulosic feedstocks, including traditional platforms (i.e. existing pulping and starch-to-ethanol processes) as well as emerging technologies that are either biological, thermochemical or hybrid based. However, there is as yet no clear candidate for “best technology pathway” between the competing routes.

Monitoring larger-scale demonstration projects is one of the activities undertaken by IEA Bioenergy Task 39 to try to derive an accurate, comparative database. Even at oil prices in excess of $100 a barrel, advanced biofuels will likely not become fully commercial for 5-to-10 more years without significant government support. The expertise, progress and goals of the member countries and companies involved with IEA Bioenergy Task 39 will be used to descibe progress in the biorefining area and our attempts to commercialise advanced biofuels.