What is a biorefinery?
Book chapter, 2012
The term “biorefinery” appeared in the 1990’s in response to a least four industry trends. First, there was an increased awareness in industry of the need to use biomass resources in a more rational way both economically and environmentally. The environmental issue was both policy and consumer driven. Second, there
was a growing interest in upgrading more low-quality lignocellulosic biomass to valuable products. Third, there was an increased attention to the production of starch for energy applications. Finally, there was a perceived need to develop more high-value products and diversify the product mix in order to meet global competi- tion and, in some cases, utilise an excess of biomass (especially in the pulp and paper industry).
In a biorefinery, biomass is upgraded to one or more valuable products such as transport fuels, materials, chemicals, electricity and, as byproduct, heat. In principle all types of biomass can be used, e.g. wood, straw, starch, sugars, waste and algae. But there is more to it than that. The aim of this chapter is to explain in some more detail what a biorefinery is or could be.
There have been many attempts to determine what should be meant by a “biorefinery” and in the next section we provide some of the definitions and additional meaning that has been attached to the concept. To give a more in-depth understanding of what a biorefinery might be, the following sections describe process technologies that are often considered as key constituent parts of biorefineries and some opportunities for integration in existing processing industry that also can be viewed as biorefining.