The Future of Industrial Biorefineries

A recently published World Economic Forum report found that Biorefineries will have a major role to play in mitigating climate change and in helping respond to future demands for energy, chemicals and multiple industrial materials. 

The document, titled The Future of Industrial Biorefineries, indicates that the use of biomass would create a transition from fossil carbon to more sustainable bio-based production, that could provide a new industrial paradigm in the near future.

The report was edited and authored by Sir David King, from the University of Oxford, who says that “the emerging biomass value chain will create significant business opportunities and new winners, with technology- and science-driven companies with access to key enzyme and microbial technologies being central to the development of the bio-based economy. The growth of the bio-based economy could create significant economic growth and job creation opportunities, particularly in rural areas, where incomes and economic prospects are currently moderate, and in advanced manufacturing.”

Biorefineries are defined in the report as “facilities that convert biomass – biological materials from living or recently living organisms – into fuels, energy, chemicals and materials (and feed)”. These facilities will encompass a variety of conversion processes and different sized installations due to the range of processes—biological, chemical, and thermal—that can be deployed.

The report estimates that a biomass value chain could create significant revenue potentials by 2030, which are estimated at:

US$15 billion for agricultural inputs;
US$89 billion for biomass production;
US$30 billion for biomass trading;
US$10 billion for biorefining inputs;
US$80 billion for biorefining fuels;
US$6 billion for bioplastics;
US$65 billion for biomass power and heat.

The study identifies a number of technical, strategic and commercial challenges that need to be addressed before large-scale commercialization of the biorefining industry can succeed. These include the need for significant advances in the development and deployment of bio-based technologies, infrastructure development, high capital costs and the issue of restricted land and biomass availability.

Overcoming these challenges will require multiple stakeholders to play an active role in promoting the industrialization of biorefinery systems, the report finds. Governments, in particular, have a key role to play in providing seed support – particularly at the pre-competitive stage – thus creating conditions to ensure that it becomes established and successful as quickly as possible.

Read a release from the World Economic Forum here.

Read full report here.

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