Biorefining, in a similar manner to petrochemical refining, involves the conversion of a naturally occurring material, in the case of biorefining it is biomass, into valuable materials. Lignocellulosic materials – wood, waste material from crops, grasses, algae - can be separated into lignin, C5 and C6 sugars, hemicellulose and cellulose. The hemicellulose and cellulose can be converted by biocatalysis into fermentable sugars which can be biotransformed into bioethanol, biofuels and renewable platform chemicals.
It is important to preserve the cellulose and hemicellulose and limit the degradation to enzyme inhibitory products for maximum return of sugars and concomitant efficiency in conversion to compounds of interest.
The large emerging “green chemical” industry represents a very sizeable market opportunity. The nascent biorefining industry is set to produce fuels and commodity chemicals at prices that compete with or beat their petroleum-derived equivalents, and indeed for some products this is already the case.
This industry is growing rapidly, since it is now well recognised that there is a need to move away from a complete reliance on oil as a raw material for the world’s fuels and chemicals. This is driven by numerous factors at the global level ranging from diminishing future supplies to geopolitical issues to environmental concerns.
One certainty from this is that the long term trend for the price of oil will be volatile and upwards, and this is stimulating the development of fuels and chemicals from biomass such as lignocellulose, derived from wood, grass, straw etc, and municipal waste.
Such chemicals are produced with reduced environmental impact and are renewable and moreover more economically sustainable in the face of rising oil prices. Typically large quantities of chemical materials can be extracted directly from plants or obtained by chemical or biochemical (fermentation) methods. The biorefinery key objective is to maximise value from the whole plant, often in conjunction with advanced enzymology, molecular biology, fermentation and process chemistry.
The use of industrial ultrasonication technology from Celbius in synergy with bioprocessing, biocatalysis and fermentation - so called Sonobioprocessing - now has the opportunity to improve the conversion of biorefined products such as C5 and C6 sugars, hemicellulose and cellulose into bioethanol, other biofuels and renewable platform chemicals.