As a petroleum refinery uses petroleum as the major input and processes it into many different products, a biorefinery uses lignocellulosic biomass as themajor input and processes it into many different products. Currently, wet-mill corn processing and pulp and paper mills can be categorized as biorefineries since they produce multiple products frombiomass. Research is currently being conducted to foster new industries to convert biomass into a wide range of products, including ones that would otherwise be made from petrochemicals. The idea is forbiorefineries to produce both high-volume liquid fuels and high-value chemicals or products in order to address national energy needs while enhancing operation economics. Two of the most promisingemerging biorefinery platforms are the sugar platform and the thermochemical platform (also known as the syngas platform). Sugar platform biorefineries would break biomass down into different types ofcomponent sugars for fermentation or other biological processing into various fuels and chemicals. Thermochemical biorefineries would convert biomass to synthesis gas (hydrogen and carbon monoxide) orpyrolysis oil, the various components of which could be directly used as fuel. The diagram below illustrates the biorefinery concept.
Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Biomass Program, June2006, http://www.nrel.gov/biomass/biorefinery.html
Biomass Energy Data Book: Edition 1
The Department of Energy Biomass Program is currently focusing efforts on two biorefinery platforms– sugar and thermochemical – but other platforms also have potential for expanding the use of biomass energy.
Table 4.1 Biorefinery Platforms
Platform Sugar Platform Description Developingtechnology to break cellulose and hemicellulose down into their component sugars. Those sugars can then be processed to fuel ethanol or other building block chemicals. Lignin can either be burned to...