The Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and University of Hohenheim have come together in a pilot research project that involves the creation of a biorefinery plant at the university’s “Unterer Lindenhof” experimental station. The vision is to design a small-scale plant for farm use that uses both biogenic plant residues and agricultural by-products to produce a wide range of raw materials and energy sources, without competing with food production.
The biomass has multiple uses. For example, by utilising the KIT's bioliq® process, a synthetic fuel called biosyncrude and basic chemicals can be produced from it. Furthermore, biogenic hydroxymethylfurfural can be refined from biomass, which is used in food packaging, fibres for car seats, sportswear and car parts, among other things. Wood, straw and grasses are also rich in lignocellulose that can be broken down into useful materials for making eco-friendly chipboard and plywood.
"If different processes are efficiently connected in series, biomass can be refined along the entire value chain into foodstuff, animal feed, materials, chemicals and energy," explains Professor Nicolaus Dahmen from the Institute for Catalysis Research and Technology at KIT in a .
Encouraging farmers to set up biorefineries would be a win-win for the climate and the local economy. “When plastics, new materials or fuels are produced from biomass, carbon is sequestered," Professor Andrea Kruse from the University of Hohenheim explains in the aforementioned . "If these biogenic products are then burned at the end of their useful life to generate energy, only the same amount of CO2 is released as would be produced if the plant source material were rotting. This not only saves fossil fuels, but also CO2 emissions."
The scientists envisage that intermediate products would be made on site, which could then be further processed in regional factories. Any nutrient by-products would be returned to the earth as fertilisers.