Sustainability evaluation of biorefinery systems for fuel and commodity chemical generation from plant residues

A sub-project of NRP 70 Energy Turnaround – Dr. Jan Grenz, Dr. Michael Studer, and Dr. Jeremy Luterbacher.

   The goal of this work is the development of techno-economic and sustainability models of a novel approach combining biochemical conversion and chemical catalysis to produce liquid fuels and commodity chemicals from lignocellulosic biomass. Modelling of lab-scale based production allows for technical and economic analysis and optimization, as current estimates of energetic efficiencies and scale-up potential of novel conversion processes are lacking. Production feasibility of bio-based liquid fuels and commodity chemicals on a wide scale, as with their fossil fuel based counterparts, will be dependent on their energetic, sustainability, and economic potential.


Steam explosion-pretreated lignocellulosic biomass is converted to carboxylic acids through a novel consolidated bioprocessing method, at which point the carboxylic acids can be upgraded to α -olefins or alkane mixtures through various catalytic pathways. The development of models from specific processes to whole value chains will allow for process and system level technical and sustainability assessments and optimization, as well as scalability of the lab-scale process to the biorefinery level. Flowsheeting software, such as Aspen Plus, is used to develop thermodynamic models, define costing options, and design the utility usages. Objective functions can then be defined and multi-objective optimization can be done from a software platform.


Contact: Katie McClung