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Demonstration of an integrated innovative biorefinery for the transformation of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) into new BioBased products (URBIOFIN)

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - URBIOFIN (Demonstration of an integrated innovative biorefinery for the transformation of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) into new BioBased products (URBIOFIN))

Reporting period: 2021-05-01 to 2022-09-30

Due to the rapid growth of population, municipal solid waste (MSW) has contributed significantly to the total amount of waste generated by our society. Today in Europe, each inhabitant generates, in average, 0.5 tonnes of MSW per year, increasing at an annual rate of 10%. Around 40-50% of it correspond to organic waste. This organic fraction mainly contains carbohydrates, proteins and lipids, which are useful raw material that can be converted to valuable products. Its valorisation will help to solve environmental pollution but also contribute to the transition from a linear to a renewable circular economy. Digestion and composting have contributed to the reduction of the biodegradable fraction of MSW sent to landfill. The low economic value of compost and biogas is limiting the sustainable implementation of separate sourcing systems since increasing citizen environmental (waste) taxes is then needed to tackle important logistic costs. New biobased products can help to improve waste treatment environmental and socio-economical sustainability. The aim of URBIOFIN was to demonstrate the techno-economic and environmental viability of the conversion at semi-industrial scale (10 T/d) of the organic fraction of MSW (OFMSW) into: Chemical building blocks (bioethanol, volatile fatty acids, biogas), biopolymers (polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) and biocomposites) and additives (microalgae hydrolysate for biofertilisers). By using the biorefinery concept applied to MSW (urban biorefinery), URBIOFIN exploited the OFMSW as feedstock to produce different valuable marketable products for agriculture and cosmetics. URBIOFIN offers a new feasible and more sustainable scenario alternative to the current treatment of the OFMSW.
WP1 Preliminary actions for the urban biorefinery design
In this work package, feedstock specifications for the core technologies of the project were set. The preliminary actions also included a characterization and selection of the best OFMSW for the URBIOFIN biorefinery, a general layout of the process and a preliminary LCA assessment. An in-depth study allowed to establish the requirements that bioproducts which will be obtained from URBIOFIN Biorefinery should fulfil as well as assumptions for the preliminary model.

WP2 Conversion of OFMSW to bioethanol as building block for the production of bioethylene
In this WP the production of 2G bioethanol from OFMSW has been improved and the operational costs of this process were reduced by 20%. The demo plant was adapted to reduce energy costs and a tailor-made enzymatic cocktail which increased the bioethanol yield was developed, optimizing the process conditions. At the same time, the viability for the continuous conversion of the alcohol produced into bioethylene by a catalytic process was demonstrated at semi-industrial scale.

WP3 Conversion of OFMSW to VFAs for the production of PHA
A demo-scale 2-phase anaerobic digestion system fed with OFMSW (and vinasse liquid) has been operated in a semi-continuous manner, achieving a VFA concentration over 20 g/L in the first (acidogenic) stage and a destruction of 80% of the VS fed to the second (methanogenic) phase. Production processes were developed for mcl-PHA and FA elongation based on OFMSW as a feedstock supplemented with nutrients and ethanol or VFA as a co-feed. The process for obtaining scl-PHA has been successfully scaled up obtaining 59% of PHA in the biomass with an extraction yield of 92.78% and a purity of 90%.

WP4 Biogas bioconversion to biomethane and added value products
In this WP, the optimization of a pilot scale system for biogas valorization has been carried out. This system includes: i) a photosynthetic biogas upgrading unit coupled with a biological step for siloxanes removal and ii) a two-stage unit for the anoxic desulfurization of biogas followed by CH4 bioconversion into PHA. The final biomethane obtained complied with the current European legislation (CH4: ~ 95%, CO2: 2-3%, N2: 2-3% and H2S: 0%). Moreover, the microalgal biomass productivity reached an average production of 19 g m-2 d-1, which accounted for 5.2 kg of microalgae per day. Up to 97 % of methane was removed obtaining a maximum PHA concentration of 131.6 mg L-1.

WP5 Final applications and industrial validation of the biobased products developed
The experimental activities related to the production and validation of the bio-based products took place. After reaching the steady-state conditions in URBIOFIN pilot plants, optimised blends and formulations has been produced with intermediate materials coming from URBIOFIN biorefinery and, as a result, the different bio-based products has been obtained and the validation essays has determined the potential of final Products for the different end-user purposes.

WP6 Integration of the urban biorefinery. Economic, environmental and regulatory assessments
The biorefinery model was updated and further developed, incorporating new process advances and results from lab and demonstration scale activities undertaken by the partners during the execution project. LCA, LCC and s-LCA of URBIOFIN biorefinery were completed. With regards to legislative and regulatory requirements, a complete review and update was carried out.

WP7 Communication, dissemination and exploitation activities
WP7 realised an effective communication, dissemination, and exploitation of project results. All KPIs were fully satisfied and most of them have very much surpassed their target values. All deliverables, both the ones relevant to communication and dissemination, and the ones in regard to IPRs and commercial exploitation, were duly submitted. Lastly, all milestones were accomplished.

WP8 Project management
The main objective of this WP was to coordinate and assure the optimal implementation of URBIOFIN project. It involved the supervision of all work packages and the correct workflow throughout the project. Processes and WPs involved in the development of the project are interconnected and its coordination was critical for its correct implementation.
URBIOFIN demonstration showed the progress beyond the state of the art in the following fields:
- Bioethanol production from the OFMSW and its use as chemical building block, where bioethanol produced from the OFMSW was employed as a feedstock for the production of “second generation” bioethylene for gas ripening application.
- Production of VFA from anaerobic digestion of OFMSW and its elongation into MCFA to produce short chain and medium chain PHA biopolymers. PHA biopolymers represent a higher value product from two-step anaerobic digestion of OFMSW, instead of the traditional production of biogas for bioenergy generation.
- Biogas upgrading by microalgae photobioreactor for the production of pure biomethane, with the construction and operation of a high rate algal pond reactor. The upgraded biomethane was further treated in a biological polishing unit aiming at removing volatile methyl siloxanes.
- Production of bio-fertilisers from microalgae and OFMSW. Microalgae grown on OFMSW-based digestate demonstrated the potential of this biomass for the production of an aminoacid-rich intermediate product. The development of liquid and solid-state bio-based fertilisers will help to partially replace the commonly used mineral fertilisers.