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Biorefineries; Turning Waste into Resource

Becky Fields

By Becky Fields

14 Mar 2016

The Global population is increasing, people are living longer and the rest of the world is adopting a western culture. This is seeing greater demand for consumer products, consuming natural resources at a faster rate and with it, the waste problem is growing with little understanding of how best to control it.

Best practice has simply demonstrated risk mitigation of environmental impact of landfill and incineration. But these controls are not necessarily practiced around the world. Instead of burying the problem or turning it to carbon dioxide in a very expensive way, why not make use of our waste and turn it back into consumer products such as personal care products, food and drink and transport. Bio refineries are today’s solution for bringing waste back into the production stream.

The bio economy, a sustainable production of renewable resources and their conversion into bio-based products and bio-energy, through industrial biotechnology; probably won’t look on the surface much different from today’s world but the use of renewable resources to replace fossil oil will enable a social-economic change to benefit local and global communities in a cleaner, greener world. Biorefineries will deliver this change and will provide the technologies that utilise sustainable feedstocks to ensure we continue to enjoy a high standard of living as fossil resources decline.

The waste problem is growing with little understanding of how best to control it

Existing oil-refineries around the world turn crude oil into heavy and light oil fractions which are used to make chemicals and fuels such as petrol, diesel and jet kerosene. Bio-refineries employ a wider scope of technologies to accommodate raw materials such as forestry and agricultural residues and municipal/​industrials wastes to produce the same fuels and chemicals or products that are better than those manufactured today. This is achieved by having a much smaller impact on the environment, consuming less energy and water resources without impacting global food supply.

The biorefinery industry sits at the threshold of the next step of its evolution. A recent World Economic Forum report says second generation plants will operate on a large commercial scale in just years. Biotechnology then will move beyond its beta’ stage. Future of Industrial Biorefineries — World Economic Report This is big news in support of sustainable and renewable products and energy.

How will this impact our daily lives? Biorefineries will become integrated with our local communities, treating our wastes, providing local jobs, and producing locally sourced manufactured products whilst co-existing with our woodlands and water reservoirs. Our houses will contain furniture and appliance comprising technologies such as advanced materials and our kitchens will include food packaging made from food waste. We will heat and power our homes from renewable energy sources arising as a by-product of biorefinery processes and our cars will be driven by fuels with minimal harmful emissions.

Biorefineries are set to integrate with our local communities, treating waste, providing jobs, and producing locally sourced materials

The ability to use waste in biorefineries will be essential to the adoption of biofuels as a primary energy source. CPI focuses on putting waste back into the production stream while leaving land for growing food and is working to build supply chains to secure feedstock supply within the bio-based industry.

The World Economic Forum report discusses difficulties in funding new biorefineries. Investors lack a known return on their investment and assurances whether the cost of the biorefinery can be contained. CPI look to develop biorefining as a part of a profitable future and can provide open access to over £21m worth of equipment that can be used to prove bioprocesses on a pilot and demonstration scale, helping companies to build a business case for investment into production facilities of their own.

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