Currently the vast majority of chemical building blocks and materials are produced from fossil resources, which poses a range of challenges from environmental (global warming) through economic (increasing raw material prices and high volatilities) to security of supply (long-term depletion). Besides, the forest regions in Northern, Eastern, Central and Southern Europe are a large biomass resource with 25 billion m3 growing stock suitable for forestry in the EU-27 that does not compete with the food chain. The annual European wood biomass supply is 800 mln m3; the same order of magnitude as the total European chemical production i.e. 400-500 mln tons of chemicals. It is therefore expected that lignocellulosic feedstock will soon become a key strategic resource for chemical intermediates and products. Combined with European expertise in wood processing in the paper industry over the last century and the achievements in sustainable forestry make woody biomass an attractive feedstock for sustainable production of bio-based chemicals.
To achieve the ambition towards a more biobased economy the BIOFOREVER consortium has been set-up consisting of 14 partners. In April 2016 the proposal was approved by the Bio Based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU), a public private partnership between the European Union and the Biobased Industry Consortium. The total investment is € 16,2 for this stage. The project started September 1st 2016 and will run for 3 years using a fast-track and open innovation approach.
It will address the key challenges along the value chain (from wood to final product) that currently hinder utilisation of woody feedstock in applications beyond paper, fuels and energy.
Of those key challenges can be mentioned:
- selection of the best type of wood for the selected applications. Currently the focus is in the project on spruce, poplar and a waste wood mix, although other lignocellulosic biomasses are not excluded..
- selection of the best technology to convert woody biomass to intermediates like C5/C6 sugars, lignin and humins with a grade that is sufficient to produce the selected final products.
- confirmation that based on the produced intermediates, the selected final products can be made with the specifications in comparison with its oil-based of starch based sugar alternatives.
The selected final products cover a wide product spectrum varying from resin acids, specialty sugars, furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA), butanol, lignosulfonates and enzymes. For these products, the whole processing route from feedstock until final product will be demonstrated up to a pre-industrial scale. It must be emphasized that special attention will be given to the valorization of the side-streams originating from the different routes.
This technical demonstration will fuel the techno-economic evaluation as enable a blueprint for a full sized industrial plant, which is intended to be the next scale after the BIOFOREVER project, both from a technical as economic perspective. Therefore commercialization routes for the different value chains from woody biomass to final product are an integral part of the project.
Based on current insights, the expected impact of BIOFOREVER is:
- Up to 85% reductions in CO2-emissions compared to fossil-based value chains.
- About € 400 mln turnover in biorefinery intermediates (lignins and sugars) and € 650 mln in chemical intermediates and products for a 1,5 mln ton/year LC biorefinery.
- The number of direct jobs of a commercial scale biorefinery would accumulate to about 1200, generating typically 6000-7500 indirect jobs and an additional investment exceeding the 70M euros by the partners