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Bio-energy production and refinement

Creating sustainable bioenergy production through integration with biorefinery operations.
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Bio4Products unlocks the potential of biomass
Creating sustainable resources for the process industry
News from this sector
Creating plastic on the Bio-based Plastic Street
24/06/2019

The transition to a bio-based economy starts by raising already young children's awareness. Activities which take technology and chemistry of bio-based materials into schools make children curious and helps them understand such an important yet complex topic. An example is the Bio-based plastic Street, a fun and interactive way to show children to how to make their own bio-based plastic.
Study identifies most promising feedstocks for pyrolysis based biorefinery
11/06/2019

A study into the composition and processability of different biomass feedstocks has found sunflower seed husks and poplar wood slabs to be the most suitable for producing bio-based products via fast pyrolysis conversion.
Creating plastic on the Bio-based Plastic Street (24/06/2019)
The transition to a bio-based economy starts by raising already young children's awareness. Activities which take technology and chemistry of bio-based materials into schools make children curious and helps them understand such an important yet complex topic. An example is the Bio-based plastic Street, a fun and interactive way to show children to how to make their own bio-based plastic.
Only few people know that plastic is not necessarily made from petroleum and that instead it can also be made from plant-based materials like starch. In the Bioplastic Street, organized by the BioCannDo project, children aged between 8 and 15 can cut, mix, filter, inject and finally make their own plastic form starting from one of their favorite foods: potatoes! They can also use a microscope to analyze the pieces of raw materials they are using.

A whole class can work on the Bioplastic Street at the same time and it will take them about three quarters of an hour to complete the entire experiment and produce their own plastic form, under the guidance of expert staff. Kids love working at the Bioplastic Street: they learn while using their own creativity, which makes it easier for them to grasp the concept of sustainability. The Bioplastic Street can be, for example, a project at school. It is particularly recommended to upper primary education or the first three years of secondary education. But it is also perfect as an event or open day in the field of bio-based economy.

The Bioplastic Street has been presented at the Maker Faire 2018 in Rome.

Download the lesson plan here or watch the tutorial.

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Study identifies most promising feedstocks for pyrolysis based biorefinery (11/06/2019)
A study into the composition and processability of different biomass feedstocks has found sunflower seed husks and poplar wood slabs to be the most suitable for producing bio-based products via fast pyrolysis conversion.
The study was conducted by Capax Biobased Development and BTG Biomass Technology Group as part of the Horizon 2020 project Bio4Products, which is testing the feasibility of a fast pyrolysis based biorefinery concept.

Feedstock composition
A shortlist of 10 feedstocks were studied, focusing on residues from agriculture, food/feed processing and forestry: Hemp shives, Flax shives, Flax pellets, Wheat straw, Olive kernels, Sunflower husks, Poplar wood slabs, Softwood, Hardwood (poplar) and Phytoremediated poplar wood. These feedstocks were selected based on a previous study into biomass availability as well as their suitability for processing and sustainability parameters.

Capax first investigated the physical properties of each feedstock including particle size and moisture content. This was followed by a chemical characterisation, analysing lignin/cellulose/hemi-cellulose ratio, and ash and mineral content.

Effect on pyrolysis products and fractions
To analyse the effect on quality and yield of fast pyrolysis bio-oil - the main product of fast pyrolysis - each of the feedstocks were converted by BTG Biomass Technology Group at their plant in the Netherlands. The highest yield was obtained from the softwood dust, while the worst result came from the wheat straw.

Finally the bio-oils obtained from the different feedstocks were extracted to obtain lignin and sugar fractions. In general, no large differences were found during the extractions. Based on these results and other criteria including ease of handling and sustainability, a ranking was made, with sunflower seed husks and poplar wood slabs coming out on top.

New bio-based products
The lignin and sugar fractions are renewable chemical intermediates that are being used by downstream partners in the Bio4Products project to substitute fossil materials such as phenols and creosote. Hexion is using the pyrolytic lignin to replace fossil phenol in moulding compounds and insulation foams. TransFurans Chemicals are testing how the sugar fraction can be applied in furan based resins, and is working with Foreco to develop a formulation for wood modification.

Partners are reporting positive results, and it is expected that new bio-based products could hit the market soon after the project closes in 2020.
Find out more about the project on the Bio4Products SEED

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European bio-based sector sets out 2050 vision for a circular bio-society (03/06/2019)
Bio-based industry heavyweights have set out their circular bioeconomy visions for 2050 in a new report led by the Bio-based Industries Consortium (BIC). The report noted, among other things, that there was a need to bridge the skills gap between educational institutions and the bioeconomy sector.
The report, exclusively seen by Bio Market Insights and published by the BIC with input from a number of other EU bioeconomy stakeholders, sets out a vision that focuses on four key drivers. This includes plans for fostering food security, meeting a growing population's demand for sustainable products and looking at how the sector can contribute to a sustainable planet. It also includes a vision for creating jobs and achieving a circular bioeconomic society.

"In this circular bio-society, informed citizens choose more sustainable means to live and acknowledge and benefit from a bioeconomic societal model," the report's executive summary stated.

Under the umbrella of contributing to a sustainable planet, the bio-based industry has outlined plans to stimulate the growth of eco-designed bio-based products which are recyclable or compostable. This plan aims to prevent pollution and littering of the biosphere, and will help to contribute to three UN sustainable development goals (SDGs).

The EU bio-based industry also hopes its strategy will help to create more jobs and promote economic growth. For example, the bio-based industry aims to expand bio-based activities across Europe, providing new or additional income for actors in sectors such as agriculture, food, and forestry. It also aims to enable brand owners to lead the conversion to bio-based applications by informing citizens and increasing their awareness of bio-based alternatives.

In relation to achieving a circular bioeconomic society, the bio-based industry envisions a scenario where an innovation infrastructure with interlinked R&D centres is built in order to help facilitate exchange of expertise across Europe.

Bridging the skills gap
Industry stakeholders also hope to bridge the skills gap between EU universities and the bio-based industry. Under its 2050 vision plans, the bioeconomy industry hopes to standardise the bioeconomy curricula across Europe.

Nelo Emerencia, programming director at BIC, told Bio Market Insights: "The bio-based industry is engaging in dialogue with educational institutions on a European level to align industry's needs for skills and competences with education and training. Our objective is to arrive at curricula for the different sub-sectors and levels that will be valued equally across Europe and accepted in all member states.

"Therefore, we're not out to make everything identical, but curricula and diplomas should meet standards that are mutually accepted by education and industry across Europe."

Emerencia added that the bioeconomy industry needed to lead and specific its "needs for the future", otherwise he warned that there would be a "plethora of 'bio-based' curricula and diplomas driven by academia and universities alone.

He explained: "These may not respond to our evolving needs. There is already a gap between our needs and existing curricula. Entrants in the market often do not have the profile/educational baggage that we need. The bio-based industry across Europe will promote careers that need and welcome graduates with new/adequate diplomas.

"We will specify our needs on all levels: vocational, applied university and research university levels.

Elsewhere, the report also highlights the need for Europe to adopt a food system that operates on principles of circularity. This will see the return of "necessary ingredients to the soil to increase soil carbon content and avoid depletion". Under the plans, biodiversity will be enhanced.

All in all, the report maintained that a circular bio-society would be achieved by EU citizens adopting a sustainable way of life, which will help to make an active contribution to help achieve 12 of the UN's SDGS and reduce society's dependence on fossil resources.

BIC is a non-profit organisation set up in Brussels in 2013. BIC represents the private sector in a Public-Private Partnership with the European Commission, also known as the Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU).

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US researchers use bio-inspired material to recover uranium from seawater (23/05/2019)
US-based scientists have demonstrated a new bio-inspired material for an eco-friendly and cost-effective approach to recovering uranium from seawater.
A research team from the US Department of Energy's Oak Ridge and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of South Florida developed a material that selectively binds dissolved uranium with a low-cost polymer adsorbent. The results, published in Nature Communications, could help push past bottlenecks in the cost and efficiency of extracting uranium resources from oceans for sustainable energy production.

"Our approach is a significant leap forward," said co-author Ilja Popovs of ORNL's Chemical Sciences Division. "Our material is tailor-made for selecting uranium over other metals present in seawater and can easily be recycled for reuse, making it much more practical and efficient than previously developed adsorbents."

In a statement, Oak Ridge National Laboratory said that Popovs took inspiration from the chemistry of iron-hungry microorganisms. Microbes such as bacteria and fungi secret natural compounds known as "siderophores" to siphon essential nutrients like iron from their hosts. "We essentially created an artificial siderophore to improve the way materials select and bind uranium," he said.

The team used computational and experimental methods to develop a novel functional group known as "H2BHT"—2,6-bis(hydroxy(methyl)amino)-4-morpholino-1,3,5-triazine—that preferentially selects uranyl ions, or water-soluble uranium, over competing metal ions from other elements in seawater, such as vanadium.

The fundamental discovery is backed by the promising performance of a proof-of-principle H2BHT polymer adsorbent. Uranyl ions are readily "adsorbed," or bonded to the surface of the material's fibres because of the unique chemistry of H2BHT. The prototype stands out among other synthetic materials for increasing the storage space for uranium, yielding a highly selective and recyclable material that recovers uranium more efficiently than previous methods.

With a practical recovery method, saltwater extraction offers a sustainable alternative to land-mining uranium that could sustain nuclear power production for millennia.

Uranium deposits are abundant and replenishable in seawater through the natural erosion of ore-containing rocks and soil. Despite dilute concentrations, approximately 3 milligrams of uranium per ton of seawater, the world's oceans hold massive stores of the element totaling an estimated four billion tons—a 1000 times greater supply than all land sources combined.

The development of efficient uranium adsorbents to harness this potential resource, however, has been an elusive quest since the 1960s.

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Harnessing sunlight to pull hydrogen from wastewater (13/05/2019)
New Princeton University hydrogen production process attractive for refineries and chemical industry
Hydrogen is a critical component in the manufacture of thousands of common products from plastic to fertilizers, but producing pure hydrogen is expensive and energy intensive. Now, a research team at Princeton University has harnessed sunlight to isolate hydrogen from industrial wastewater.

In a paper published in the journal Energy & Environmental Science, the researchers reported that their process doubled the currently accepted rate for scalable technologies that produce hydrogen by splitting water.

The technique uses a specially designed chamber with a "swiss-cheese" black silicon interface to split water and isolate hydrogen gas. The process is aided by bacteria that generate electrical current when consuming organic matter in the wastewater; the current, in turn, aids the water splitting process.

The team, led by Zhiyong Jason Ren, professor of civil and environmental engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, chose wastewater from breweries for the test. They ran the wastewater through the chamber, used a lamp to simulate sunlight, and watched the organic compounds breakdown and the hydrogen bubble up.

The process "allows us to treat wastewater and simultaneously generate fuels," said Jing Gu, a co-researcher and assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry at San Diego State University.

The researchers said the technology could appeal to refineries and chemical plants, which typically produce their own hydrogen from fossil fuels, and face high costs for cleaning wastewater.

Although hydrogen can be used as a vehicle fuel, the chemical industry is currently the largest producer and consumer of hydrogen. Producing chemicals in highly industrialized countries requires more energy than producing iron, steel, metals and food, according to a 2016 report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The report estimates that producing basic chemicals will continue to be the top industrial consumer of energy over the next two decades.

"It's a win-win situation for chemical and other industries," said Lu Lu, the first author on the study and an associate research scholar at the Andlinger Center. "They can save on wastewater treatment and save on their energy use through this hydrogen-creation process."

According to the researchers, this is the first time actual wastewater, not lab-made solutions, has been used to produce hydrogen using photocatalysis. The team produced the gas continuously over four days until the wastewater ran out, which is significant, the researchers said, because comparable systems that produce chemicals from water have historically failed after a couple hours of use. The researchers measured the hydrogen production by monitoring the amount of electrons produced by the bacteria, which directly correlates to the amount of hydrogen produced. The measurement was at the high end for similar lab experiments and, Ren said, twice as high as technologies with the potential to scale for industrial use.

Ren said he sees this technology as scalable because the chamber used to isolate the hydrogen is modular, and several can be stacked to process more wastewater and produce more hydrogen.

Though a lifecycle analysis has not yet been done, the researchers said the process will at least be energy neutral, if not energy positive, and eliminates the need for fossil fuels to create hydrogen.

The researchers said they will likely experiment with producing larger amounts of hydrogen and other gases in the future, and look forward to moving this technology to industry.
Historically, hydrogen production has relied on oil, gas or coal, and an energy-intensive method that involves processing the hydrocarbon stock with steam. Chemical manufacturers then combine the hydrogen gas with carbon or nitrogen to create high-value chemicals, such as methanol and ammonia. The two are ingredients in synthetic fibers, fertilizer, plastics and cleaning products, among other everyday goods.

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Shell to leave AFPM on climate change stance (25/04/2019)
Shell recently announced that it will not renew its membership with the US fossil fuel and petrochemical lobby group, American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) association by 2020
as according to Shell, the AFPM's stance on climate-related policies is not aligned with the company's (and most likely its investors') position.

Shell released a report assessing its alignment with 19 industry associations on climate-related policy, which, according to the company, will serve as the basis for further conversations with industry associations, investors and civil society. Shell, like many other European-based oil and chemical companies, has been increasingly pro-active in intending to cut its carbon emissions as it moves towards the goal of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The AFPM is the first among the 19 industry associations that Shell has reviewed to cut off its ties due to the AFPM's position on the following climate-related policies that reportedly undermines' Shell's drive for greater corporate transparency on this topic.

Paris Agreement: AFPM has not stated its support for the Paris Agreement goal to limit the rise in global average temperatures this Century to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Shell said it is clear about its support for the Paris Agreement.

Government-led carbon pricing: AFPM stated that it does not support carbon pricing. Shell said it has supported carbon pricing initiatives at the state and federal level such as the California cap-and-trade program.

Policy frameworks for low-carbon pricing technologies: AFPM reportedly opposes government action that includes a carbon tax and the mandated use of certain fuels. AFPM also supports the EPA's proposed rollback of fuel economy standards in the USA, which Shell opposes. In 2015, AFPM also mounted a challenge to the EPA's Clean Power Plan over whether it was compliant with the Clean Air Act. Shell said it decided not to join the legal challenge and instead focused its own advocacy on other elements of the CPP such as the use of natural gas and emission-reduction targets.

The role of natural gas: AFPM does not take positions on the role of gas and the reduction of methane emissions. Shell said it supported the use of natural gas and government regulations to address methane emissions.

Shell is currently a member of the board of directors at AFPM.

Other industry associations that are currently under review despite their opposite stance on several climate-related policies include the American Chemistry Council (ACC), American Petroleum Institute (API), BusinessEurope, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic), FuelsEurope, National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), US Chamber of Commerce (USC) and Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA). Shell reported that it will closely monitor the alignment of its position on climate-related policy with these associations and will take one or more of the following actions:

- Increase transparency about its own position and the differences with these associations by publishing this information on Shell's website.

- Increase engagement with these associations in areas of differing views.

- Pursue its advocacy independently or through other conditions when having these misaligned views.

- Re-assess its membership, including ending activities such as board and committee participation or ending overall membership.

Several news reports indicated increasing pressure from company shareholders especially in Europe to line up their business models with the Paris Agreement. This will likely reverberate across the industry and among Shell's peers who are also facing investor pressures.

The AFPM issued a statement thanking Shell for their longstanding collaboration and wishing the company all the best in the future.

Shell also recently announced the launch of a $300 million 3-year program focusing on natural ecosystem-based projects that will reduce its net carbon footprint by 2-3% beginning this year. The program will include reforestation partnerships in Spain and the Netherlands; investments in 200 new rapid electric vehicle charge-points in the Netherlands powered by renewable energy; linking its new and existing investments in natural emission reduction programs to a new offset service for customers; and nature conservation and forest regeneration projects in Queensland, Australia, and in Malaysia.

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