The change from a petroleum based to a more sustainable and bio-based economy necessitates the development of novel concepts to maintain the supply of raw materials and energy. Biorefinery concepts for the valorisation of lignocellulosic biomass are promising alternatives to secure economic prosperity combined with ecological and social responsibility. Between 2017 – 2020, an interdisciplinary team of eight BioSC Core Groups establish a novel biorefinery concept within the Focus lab AP³: Perennial lignocellulosic biomass grown on marginal soils is processed by the OrganoCat technology to platform chemicals such as cellulose, sugars and lignin for further utilization.
The Focus lab combined expertise in plant biology, chemical & process engineering and socio-economy to
- increase the potential of perennial plants towards biomass processability;
- elevate technological readiness of OrganoCat by establishing downstream and up-stream processing as well as technical scale-up;
- evaluate the economic and societal impact of the developed technology, concepts and products.
Perennial plants as renewable resources
In order to elevate the potential of perennial plants as renewable resources, novel plant management strategies combined with different genetic varieties were established. Using a plant collection of Sida hermaphrodita ecotypes from different locations in North America and Europe, the effectiveness of different alternative fertilizers on the biomass composition was investigated. Particularly the plants´ response towards the form of inorganic nitrogen was studied and the impact on cell walls composition was analysed. Genomic DNA was obtained from the “Leipzig” accession and a draft genome was assembled that will foster further genetic and molecular biologic studies and will enable a future breeding of these plants towards biomass amelioration.
Biorefineries have to deal with different types of lignocellulosic feedstocks. The composition and interconnection of the different lignocellulosic building blocks is of importance for the subsequent processing - a fact which is described as recalcitrance. To elucidate the recalcitrance of lignocellulose towards OrganoCat processing, detailed compositional data of prototypic plants was compared with their process performance. By that, generic factors – especially lignin-based factors – were identified which are important to consider during process development.
Setting up an OrganoCat pilot biorefinery
To increase the exploitation potential of an OrganoCat based biorefinery, technologies and strategies for lignin utilisation have been developed and investigated. Since in many biorefinery approaches lignin is only used to generate heat and electricity, there is currently the need to develop technologies to extract and fractionate valuable lignin for further use. In the OrganoCat process, lignin is extracted in situ using an organic solvent (2-Methyltetrahudrofurane; 2-MTHF) as a second phase. In AP³, a novel concept for lignin separation from 2-MTHF was developed, based on antisolvent precipitation. Using this technology, it is possible not only to isolate lignin from the organic phase but also to fractionate it further based on its molecular weight. Lignin therefore can be tailored towards size and quality (amount of beta aryl ether linkages, monomer unit ratio) and may be used for different applications such as insulation materials, paint components or constituents of bio-based plastics.
Innovation context analysis
To build a bridge from research and technology development to commercial application, the innovation system around lignocellulosic biorefineries was analysed. Aiming to answer key questions - which industry sectors are relevant for the technology development; which companies are already involved and what is their role in these value chains – a business to business survey was conducted. By interviewing the involved stakeholders, hurdles and pitfalls for the implementation of lignocellulosic biorefinery concepts were identified. A reorientation from fuels as a main target towards (partially new) products such biochemicals and advanced materials is of great importance. The lack of commercially attractive markets represents one barrier for the future development of lignocellulosic biorefineries. An additional hurdle is, that these technologies must also demonstrate the sustainable and efficient use of all plant parts, waste streams, and by-products.
The AP³ FocusLab successfully developed further scientific knowledge on the sustainable production of lignocellulosic biomass and its subsequent holistic processing. Novel technologies were created and investigated and a systematic view on lignocellulose processing and valorisation will foster a future application of the AP³-concepts.
Dr. Holger Klose
IBG-2 Plant Sciences, Plant Sciences, Forschungszentrum Jülich
Prof. Dr. Ulrich Schurr, Dr. Holger Klose, Dr. Silvia Schrey, Dr. Philipp M. Grande
IBG-2 Plant Sciences, Forschungszentrum Jülich
Prof. Dr. Björn Usadel, Sabine Dietrich
ABBt – Botany and Molecular Genetics, RWTH Aachen
(new address: IBG-4 Bioinformatics, Forschungszentrum Jülich)
Prof. Dr. Walter Leitner, Dennis Weidener
ITMC – Technical Chemistry and Petrochemistry, RWTH Aachen
Prof. Dr. Peter Westhoff, Dr. Elena Pestsova
Institute of Developmental and Molecular Genetics of Plants, HHU Düsseldorf
Prof. Dr. Markus Pauly, Dr. Murali Dama
Institute of Plant Cell and Biotechnology, HHU Düsseldorf
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Andreas Jupke, Arne Holtz, Martin Leipnitz
AVT – Fluid Process Engineering, RWTH Aachen
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Alexander Mitsos, Dr.-Ing. Jörn Viell, Alexandra Weber-Bernard
AVT – Process Systems Engineering, RWTH Aachen
Prof. Dr. Stefanie Bröring, Dr. Laura Carraresi, Lora Tsvetanova
ILR – Technology, Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship, Universität Bonn
01.04.2017 – 31.12.2020
The total budget of AP³ was 2.397.204 €. AP³ is part of the NRW-Strategieprojekt BioSC and thus funded by the Ministry of Culture and Science of the German State of North Rhine-Westphalia.