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A biorefinery is a refinery that converts biomass to energy and other beneficial byproducts (such as chemicals). The International Energy Agency defined biorefining as “the sustainable processing of biomass into a spectrum of bio-based products (food, feed, chemicals, materials) and bioenergy (biofuels, power and/or heat)”. As refineries, biorefineries can provide multiple chemicals by fractioning an initial raw material (biomass) into multiple intermediates (carbohydrates, proteins, triglycerides) that can be further converted into value-added products. Each refining phase is also referred to as a “cascading phase”. The use of biomass as feedstock can provide a benefit by reducing the impacts on the environment, as lower pollutants emissions and reduction in the emissions of hazard products.

A mix of product and value

A biorefinery could, for example, produce one or several low-volume, but high-value, chemical products and a low-value, but high-volume liquid transportation fuel such as biodiesel or bioethanol. At the same time, it can generate electricity and process heat, through CHP technology, for its own use and perhaps enough for sale of electricity to the local utility. The high value products increase profitability, the high-volume fuel helps meet energy needs, and the power production helps to lower energy costs and reduce GHG emissions from traditional power plant facilities.

Biorefineries in Europe

The map below (produced by Nova Institute and Biobased Industries Consortium) provides an overview of biorefineries in Europe.

There are several types of biorefineries, for instance (with number in Europe in brackets):

  • “Sugar-/starch based biorefineries” producing bioethanol and other chemicals (63)
  •  “Oil-/fat-based biorefineries – first and second generation biodiesel” (64)
  •  “Oil-/fat-based biorefineries – oleochemistry” (54)
  •  “Wood-based biorefineries with a range of products: pulp, bio-based chemicals, biofuels, electricity and heat” (25) (excluding pulp for paper only)
  •  “Lignocellulose-based biorefineries other than wood with a range of products: pulp/fibres, (proteins), bio-based chemicals, biofuels, electricity and heat” (5)
  •  “Biowaste-based biorefineries with a range of products (depending on the waste)”

Since 2014, Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI-JU) has funded 11 flagship biorefineries in Europe, leveraging €1.3 billion in private investments, to support the design and construction of the biorefinereis, creating 3,500 new direct jobs and 10,000 indirect ones.

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