World’s first lignocellulose biorefinery is on its way
Leuna – Peak oil prices and depleted fossil resources have dragged biomass into the limelight in the chemical industry. In Germany, pioneering work to use wood waste to produce bioplastics, platform chemicals or energy in a biorefinery has begun. In mid-June, a consortium of 15 research groups – including those from Bayer Technology GmbH, Evonik Degussa, Wacker Chemie AG, and the SMEs Dynea Erkner, Tecnaro and InfraLeuna GmbH – received an initial a8.5m tranche of funding to set up the world’s first lignocellulose pilot plant at the traditional chemistry production site in Leuna. The facility they are planning to build will be able to break down cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin into glucose, xylose and phenols. It is part of a a50m fund set up for the Chemical Biotech Process Center (CBP), a complete biorefinery designed to scale-up biotechnological conversions from the lab to the pilot scale, a prerequisite for companies to commercialise such technologies.
To be managed by the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft and Linde-KCA Dresden, the pilot biorefinery will feature seven plants where biotech processes can be upscaled. In contrast to plant-made starches, conversion of wood waste to chemical products is promising because wood is significantly cheaper than raw oil (EUR70/t vs. EUR480/t).
Breaking the bonds = Big money
The cellulose and hemicellulose building blocks of wood can be converted to glucose and xylose, whereas lignin can be degraded to phenol, a precursor for many chemical products.
The profitability of the biorefinery will depend primarily on the exploitation of lignin, which is difficult to crack economically. In the consortium, Wacker Chemie AG has already begun to develop processes for its enzymatic breakdown, while Dynea Erkner is very interested in the production of bioplastics from phenol building blocks. Evonik Degussa GmbH and Bayer Technology Services GmbH are also looking at how to use wood waste as an alternative feed for the sugar supply.