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BIO-based products from FORestry via Economically Viable European Routes

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - BIOFOREVER (BIO-based products from FORestry via Economically Viable European Routes)

Reporting period: 2018-03-01 to 2019-12-31

BIOFOREVER demonstrates the potential of lignocellulosic biomass as feedstock to the chemical industry by establishing several new cost-competitive and sustainable value chains based on various sources of wood-based feedstocks.
There is an increasing demand for more sustainable production systems to fight global warming and to make the transition to circular economies. The use of bio-based feedstock, not competing with food, allows the chemical industry to actively contribute to solve the global issues by:
• Reducing dependency on (finite) fossil feedstock.
• Using more efficient technology for bio-based processing with a low carbon footprint to convert these materials into products.
The qualification “bio-based origin” alone is not enough for products to compete with fossil-based products. Cost competitiveness, sustainability, and performance are equally key to commercial success. In addition, diversification in biomass as feedstock is essential for supply security and to avoid conflicts with food production and indirect land use change. The targeted bio-based end products are new and existing chemical building blocks, end-products and new products very close to market introduction. To avoid the use of first-generation feedstock, technical and market risks related to the use of lignocellulosic biomass need to be mitigated. BIOFOREVER aimed to create lignocellulosic value chains for a set of products as cost-competitive and sustainable as possible, and also to explore consumer preferences. Potential industrial parties interested in jointly implementing a commercial biorefinery will be approached, and locations will be evaluated for building one or more commercial scale plants. In this way, BIOFOREVER expects to accelerate the actual implementation of the wood-based value chains.
To achieve the above targets, BIOFOREVER established a collaboration infrastructure and website ( for a consortium of 14 leading industrial parties in feedstock supply, pre-treatment, downstream processing, techno-economic modelling and design, and market research. Within the consortium, new value chains from woody biomass to bio-based products, were developed, demonstrated and evaluated at different scales.
Four different woods were used in BIOFOREVER: spruce, poplar, waste wood A and waste wood B. These were transferred to the four pre-treatment partners who applied their proprietary technologies towards cellulosic sugars. Cellulosic sugar hydrolysates and their by-products were shipped to the application partners who executed bench-scale processes involving enzymatic conversions, fermentations and/or chemical-physical conversion towards 9 different types of products: carbon binders, butanol, ethanol, resin acids, fructose-FDCA, enzymes, vitamin B2, specialty sugars -xylose and lignin-based dispersing agents. Results have been assessed via multicriteria evaluation such as feedstock availability, processability, sustainability, regulatory requirements and costs resulting in preferred feedstock-pre-treatment-conversion combinations. The selected value chains were then demonstrated on pre-commercial scale, producing butanol, resin acids, cellulolytic enzymes, carbon binders, fructose, ethanol and specialty sugars.
Based on these results, a detailed techno-economic evaluation (TEA) was executed. Four competing pre-treatment processes were compared in detail in the TEA via a “black-box” approach; a more in-depth comparison could be possible if the engineering company involved was an independent party.
Although technically feasible, the economic feasibility of a wood-based biorefinery is challenging, mainly due to high market prices of spruce and poplar. Waste woods have acceptable prices but are associated with regulatory and /or quality limitations in several value chains.
From a Life-cycle analysis (LCA) perspective, cellulosic (2G) sugars can provide a CO2 reduction in certain scenarios compared to first generation (1G) sugars. Using the lignin fraction for energy production has a major contribution here. The combustion potential of the different BIOFOREVER lignin types was established based on composition and processability of the lignin.
A market study was done investigating the willingness of end users of bio-based products to pay a Green-Premium price. A limited premium of 10-20% appeared to be acceptable. After an in-depth consumers interview, the conclusion is that the consumers do not yet understand the bio-based concept. Educational programs and labelling systems are suggested to improve this.
Ethanol appears to be the most feasible outlet, given the current market situation. It serves as biofuel but can also be used as an intermediate chemical building block, a stepping stone towards a broader implementation of bio-based technologies. Lignosulfonate as by-product, showed to be a feasible replacer of coal tar pitch used currently as carbon binder. This bio-binder will be tested in a full-scale aluminum production plant as a follow up of BIOFOREVER, reducing Poly Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH) emissions to workers and GHG emissions.
Finally, three peer-reviewed scientific articles have been published, and one has recently been submitted, three articles have been published in web-magazines and representatives have participated in several conferences, workshops, stakeholders' meetings and exhibitions.
The most economically attractive value chain in shortest term comprises the conversion of waste woods to ethanol. This opportunity is being further explored beyond BIOFOREVER.
The most economically attractive value chain in shortest term comprises the conversion of waste woods to ethanol. This opportunity is being further explored beyond BIOFOREVER.
The most economically attractive value chain in shortest term comprises the conversion of waste woods to ethanol. This opportunity is being further explored beyond BIOFOREVER.
Conversion to ethanol will be a well-established technology, once the processes to manufacture cellulosic sugars are consolidated. Due to regulations (RED), the prices of advanced ethanol in Europe are higher and detached from the fluctuating prices of 1G ethanol. The cellulosic sugar platform is also useful as a starting point for converting sugars to other products, but currently 2G sugars are more costly (except from waste woods) and there is no Green-Premium price.
BIOFOREVER succeeded in delivering 3 LOI’s, and the oral commitment of several parties inside and outside the BIOFOREVER consortium to co-investment in a biorefinery producing advanced ethanol from waste wood.
A fast (before 2030) and substantial (10 or more) roll-out of biorefineries based on the technologies demonstrated will not be achievable in Europe without substantial facilitation.
In order to allow a faster implementation of the bio-based economy in Europe, the following recommendations are formulated:
1. Stimulate the supply of biomass
2. Manage the demand for biomass
3. Create a level playing field for bio-based products, applying substantial CO2 taxes
4. Create market demand for bio-based products, introducing mandates for bio-based content
5. Subsidize the “non-profitable top” through the learning curve
6. Facilitate further technology optimization under the Horizon Europe program