Bio-refinery processes for chemical products

Dossier

Fossil-based resources are finite and dwindling. To gradually replace them with renewable resources is one key issue of the future bio-economy. In contrast to renewable energy, many basic substances for the chemical industry are currently dependent on renewable biomass as a source for carbon.

Modern life is unthinkable without the various products from the chemical industry: plastics, drugs, paints and coatings, washing and cleaning agents, just to name a few. They are currently mainly produced from fossil-based resources, especially oil, in highly integrated process chains. The task of the future is to produce these substances from renewable resources from agriculture and forestry. For this purpose, the raw materials should be converted to the desired products in so called bio-refineries similar to the processing of oil.  

Integration in value added chain

In the bio-refineries, the renewable resources have to be broken down into the individual components, like carbohydrates, fats, oils, lignin and proteins. These will be then be converted into various intermediate and final products which are directly available as marketable products in form of bio-based chemicals, polymers or material or will be processed to such. The intermediate products can either be incorporated into the existing value added chain of the processing industry (drop-in products), which results into the same products that we know today, or it is possible to develop entirely new value added chains.

Which of these paths will be chosen depends not only on the properties of the product and the process economics, but also environmental and climatic compatibility. The sustainability of the product and the production process will increasingly play a role.  

Broad working spectrum and international integration

At the Thünen Institute we work on the technological issues of the production of bio-based chemicals, polymers and materials, as well as the accompanying environmental issues and the sustainability assessment. To do so, we investigate the aspects of the whole value added chain in the scope of individual projects as well as inter-institutional projects. Furthermore we contribute to numerous national and international working groups in the fields of bio-refineries and sustainability assessment as well as in relevant certification authorities. Particular focal points of our work are in the fields of:  

Through our research we investigate, develop and evaluate different bio-refinery processes and contribute to the international standardization. Accompanied by sustainability assessment, we identify the best possible conversion route from renewable resources to bio-based products. Our research simultaneously enables expert and competent policy advice.