The efficient utilization of biomass is fundamental requirement for the "bio-economy", which is aspired by society and politics. In this economy, the majority of our daily needs, in terms of products and energy, should be covered by renewable rather than fossil resources. Hence, it strives to enable secure and sustainable food supply as well as to reduce emissions and conserve natural resources. However, as a result of the ongoing population growth and the finite availability of agricultural areas, the pressure on the resource “biomass” increases in many industrial sectors (food, animal feed, energy, products). Biorefineries are here considered as a starting point to attenuate this conflict. This includes concepts that convert biomass to a variety of products such as food, energy or chemicals, in a highly integrated and alternative way to fossil-based refineries, with minimal consumption of energy and resources. Both, new independent systems ("biorefinery on the green field") and existing processes can be considered and optimized. Examples of industrial processes that are already working on the concept of a biorefinery are sugar or paper mills.
The main objective of this working group is to identify efficient concepts for using renewable raw materials and production residues. For this purpose, methods and processes are developed for separating valuable substances and producing intermediates of higher value for subsequent processing. These processes are at first investigated in laboratory scale. Evaluation of these concepts is then conducted based on technical (process integration, efficiency), economic (higher value products, cost minimization) and ecological (minimization of emissions) criteria. Development and optimization of appropriate processes is initially carried out successively by means of experimental investigations (e.g. maximizing biogas yields, separation of proteins, nutrients or lignin from residual process streams). In addition to laboratory reactors, a comprehensive selection of analytical methods is available. Alternatively or in parallel to the experimental investigations, a modeling of the respective processes can be carried out to evaluate these in the context of an integrated biorefinery. These models could be implemented using software such as Aspen Plus and enable the determination of the energy and material flows of the overall system. The concept of an integrated biorefinery will be illustrated by the example of an agricultural biogas plant. This plants could be used in the future as decentralized and highly efficient "sinks" for residues and by-product flows from agriculture or other industries.
Further research topics
- Circular economy phosphorus: phosphorus modification in animal feed
- Recovery of prebiotic carbohydrates from agricultural residues
- Protein recovery from bioethanol production residues
An overview of the currently available theses at the IUE can be found here.