Develop a pre-treatment process that simultaneously performs the removal of contaminants and inhibitors arising from the separation of lignin and sugar fractions yielding a contaminant-free feedstock for subsequent processes. Proposals should aim for cost-efficient solutions that are able to simultaneously break down lignin and degrade contaminants. Proposals should assess the impact of the developed processes on the environmental, social and economic performance of the whole value chain, including consumer products and demonstrating safety benefits. Efficient ways to secure and manage safety issues using hazard assessment at critical control points, feeding into the regulatory framework, need to be addressed. Other elements can include savings in terms of time, additional compounds used and energy. A key aspect to be addressed is the balance between degradation of the pollutants and inhibitory products, and maximizing the yield of fermentable sugars from biomass, without compromising the downstream process of fermentation. A life-cycle assessment should be carried out in order to evaluate the environmental and socio-economic performance of the developed technologies. A credible path to move forward from the research phase towards the commercialisation of the results should be presented. Strong weight will be put on industrial leadership to fully exploit of the developed pre-treatment processes.
It is considered that proposals with a total eligible budget in the range of EUR 2-5 million would allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of proposals with another budget.
Pre-treatment of lignocellulosic biomass is a crucial, although often overlooked step in processing: an optimised pre-treatment can increase productivity and reduce costs of subsequent processing stages. The quality of lignocellulosic feedstock is variable, both in terms of composition (i.e. sugar/lignin content) and in terms of presence of contaminants derived from e.g. the cultivation phase, harvest, previous applications of the feedstock, etc. Currently, the removal of contaminants and the separation between lignin and cellulose fractions are performed separately, with high cost for energy intensive pre-treatments and the generation of significant amounts of waste. Simultaneous pre-treatment and removal of contaminants today only exist on small scale by cocktails of fungi and enzymes on specific feedstock.
Release of degradation products is also common in the pre-treatment phase, during the breakdown of lignin. Presence of contaminants in the input biomass has repercussions on the final product (especially when dealing with food/feed ingredients, packaging or other consumer products). Many of such contaminants and degradation products are also known inhibitors of fermentative processes, with negative effects on the process yield and overall profitability. The challenge is to tackle these issues while significantly improving efficiency and reducing cost and energy usage. Resolving this challenge will remove a significant hurdle in enlarging the portfolio of biomass suitable for processing into feedstock.
- Developing efficient and integrated pre-treatment processes leading to a tangible reduction of investment and operating costs over the biomass to bio-product conversion.
- Delivering fermentable sugars of suitable quality for further conversion (e.g. advanced biochemicals). The fermentable sugars must be competitive with available sugars from current markets. The pre-treatment yield of sugars should be over 80%.
- Reducing GHG emission by at least 30% over the whole value chain of the targeted products as compared to conventional ones.
- Removal of contaminants by >98%.
- Increased consumer safety thanks to improved removal of contaminants in products.
- Reduction in environmental impact thanks to lower energy consumption, lower waste generation.
- Contributing to reinforcing cooperation along the value chain from feedstock suppliers (e.g. farmers, land and forest owners) to technology providers and end-users.
- Enabling the mobilisation and conversion of lignocellulosic feedstock into cost-competitive bio-based chemicals and materials. Enabling competitiveness of relevant lignocellulosic-based biorefinery concept(s).