For most people, the bioeconomy is the way of the future. A shift towards an
economy based on renewable resources not on fossil fuels is no longer just an
option, it's a necessity.
© Fotolia, 2012
The word "bioeconomy" has only existed since the late 1990s. And while the biotech
story is undoubtedly an exciting one, it is equally important to find an economically
viable way of implementing its techniques and getting the resulting products to
If the target is to achieve a genuinely functioning
bioeconomy – placing just as much emphasis
on the 'economy' side of the concept as the 'bio'
part – significant progress is still needed.
At the very heart of this issue lies the biorefinery
– the plant where raw materials (generally
biomass) are treated, processed and
turned into their final product.
Existing biorefineries are limited in the types of
biomass feedstock they process, the technologies
they apply and the final products they focus on.
This has the effect of substantially limiting the
added value that can potentially be achieved.
EuroBioRef is an EU-funded project set up to
address this problem by identifying improvements
in bio-refinery design and operation.
These improvements could play a pivotal role
not only in enabling a truly viable bioeconomy,
but also in giving Europe an important competitive
advantage in this vital new area.
With € 23 million of funding allocated
under the EU's 7th Framework Programme,
EuroBioRef brings together four different FP7
research themes: Food, Agriculture and Fisheries,
Biotechnology; Nanosciences, nanotechnologies,
materials and new production
technologies; Energy; and Environment (including
Established in 2010 and due to continue until
2014, the project is focused on developing a
highly integrated, multipurpose refinery. In
contrast with previous designs, this one would
be capable of handling multiple feedstock's,
processing them in multiple ways (chemical,
biochemical, thermochemical), and producing
multiple products, from aviation fuels to
chemicals, polymers and other materials.
The project is also aiming to produce a design
which is modular and flexible, allowing it to be
installed in various locations around Europe
as either large- or small-scale units as local
The highly diversified nature of the new
biorefinery design is vividly demonstrated
by the range of project participants. The 28
partners are drawn from research institutions
and commercial enterprises across the entire
biomass value chain.
They include biomass producers, advanced
biomass pre-treatment specialists, catalytic
and enzymatic reactions developers, and final
chemical and biochemical producers and endusers.
In addition to the production of a broader
range of higher value-added products, it is
expected that the greatly enhanced efficiency
of the new design will yield significant benefits.
These will include a 30% improvement in costefficiency,
a 30% reduction in energy use, and
zero waste production.
The work of EuroBioRef is still far from
complete, but the potential prize is clear. The
project will provide an efficient bridge between
the agriculture and chemical industries by
integrating the entire biomass chain in a
single concept, adaptable for use in a range
of locations. It is an advance which will do
much to help provide a viable basis for the
bio-economy as a whole.
It will also put Europe at the forefront of what
is sure to be one of the most dynamic and
important areas of economic and scientific
activity of the future.