Once biomass has been properly fractionated into cellulose, hemicelluloses and lignins, it is possible to develop of a whole family of biorefinery products within appropriate valorization chains.
In BIOCORE, the combined power of white biotechnology and chemistry will be deployed in order to develop a whole range of molecules that will target different market sectors.
The term “White biotechnology” describes the application of biotechnology for the environmentally-optimized manufacture of food ingredients, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, materials and energy vectors. It uses enzymes and micro-organisms as catalysts and, in most cases, renewable feedstocks, such as sugars and glycerol.
Regarding the biorefining of lignocelulosic biomass, white biotechnology faces a number of challenges. New, high performance enzymes are required to optimize the production of fermentable syrups from cellulose and hemicelluloses and new robust microorganisms, adapted for industrial applications, are required for fermentation processes. These microorganisms and their corresponding bioprocesses need to overcome bottlenecks such as the presence of inhibitors, the use of dilute sugar hydrolysates, challenges linked downstream product separation.
- Organic acids
- Alkylpolypentosides etc.
What will be achieved in BIOCORE?
State-of the art biotechnologies will be used to create microbes and enzyme-based processes to produce selected high impact chemicals for use as fuel, building blocks or as specialty chemicals.
Two major categories of products will be targeted:
Based on sugar syrups (glucose and pentoses) coming from the fractionation step, the R&D in BIOCORE will be performed at two different levels.
1- Work will deal with the improvement of process robustness and/or optimisation of the production conditions (e.g. fermentation of cellulosic glucose to ethanol)
2- Work aimed at developing new product opportunities (ethylene, glucaric and xylonic acid, isopropanol and alkylpentosides) will involve molecular biology, strain engineering, analysis of production bottle-necks and the search for optimal enzymes for metabolic engineering and in vitro enzymatic reactions.
Concerning the latter, the development of novel glycosynthetic enzymes will allow for both the synthesis of alkylpolypentosides and the production of tailored xylo-oligosaccharide mixtures.
Although the biological production of ethanol is most advanced, it is clear that biotechnology will not provide all of the solutions for biorefining (Ragauskas et al. 2006). Moreover, the clever combination and integration of biotechnologies and chemical processes will provide high performance, robust industrial manufacturing pipelines.
When dealing with complex and quite resistant material such as lignins, thermochemical technologies constitute viable alternatives to biotechnology. Similarly, heterogeneous catalysis, the well-established workhorse of the current chemical industry, holds much promise for the development of smart processes that will deal with certain biomass fractions.
In BIOCORE, chemistry in several forms, will form a key part of the thrust towards the development of a rich product portfolio. Thermochemistry and heterogeneous catalysis will be used to produce platform chemicals and polymer chemistry will be applied to the transformation of natural building blocks into industrial polymers.
A key feature of BIOCORE is its ambition to provide several polymer types. This is because forecasts indicate that bio-based polymers will constitute one of the most dynamic future markets for bio-based products. Similarly, it is clear that society is highly dependent upon bulk thermoplastic polymers, such as polyolefins PVC and polyurethanes. Therefore, it is vital that biorefineries develop bio-based polymers that respond to current manufacturer’s standards and market needs.
Nevertheless, much remains to be achieved in order to allow biomass fractions to be efficiently transformed into a wide range of polymers.
What will be achieved by BIOCORE?
BIOCORE will develop and adapt thermochemical and chemical catalysis for the production of key chemicals, which will serve as building blocks for the preparation of polyers, including polyurethanes, polyesters and thermoset resins.
The clever combination of chemistry and biotechnology will allow the development of cellulose to PVC value chain. This value chain will provide alternative products such as bio-ethanol and bio-polyethylene.