Currently biorefineries have followed the conception of oil refineries, using a single feedstock (e.g. for oil refineries: crude oil) in huge processing capacities to achieve maximum economy of scale. Applied to biomass this approach has led to the development of a broad spectrum of different large-scale biorefineries that are using only a single feedstock.
Due to high capital costs required and barriers for sustainable biomass supply and distribution the opportunities for installing such large-scale biorefineries are scarce in most rural areas in Europe, LAC countries and worldwide.
Conversely, small-scale biorefineries will require a significantly lower investment (capital expenditure, CAPEX) and thus solve several challenges their larger competitors are facing.
However, there are still numerous technological and strategic challenges that hamper the commercial development of small-scale biorefineries.
One challenge is the heterogeneity of the biomass that shall be converted into bio products in a multi-feedstock biorefinery (the vast majority of biomass resources available in rural temperate and humid tropical regions are crop and food residues, animal and human waste and agro-processing residues) which requires the use of different technological transformation processes. These are lignocellulose conversion to sugars and then conversion to biofuels and/or added value chemicals, and wet biomass to biogas through anaerobic digestion.
In the SMIBIO Project these different (bio-)conversion processes will be integrated into a unique modular small-scale biorefinery concept which will be capable of transforming dry and wet biomass residues by means of different process units and unit operations to produce a vast array of biomaterials and bio products maximizing the use of resources and energy efficiency
Still numerous technological challenges need to be addressed for many unitary operations of both platforms (e.g. optimal fractionation and separation of lignocellulose, improved biocatalysts, enhancing the gas yield, improving the high added value bio-fertilizers, smart solutions for near-zero waste, enhancing the output/input energy ratio).
Another important challenge addressed in this project is to determine how the new biorefinery can be integrated into existing agro-industrial and agro-food processing value chains. This strategy will overcome the uncertainty associated with the implementation of a novel and unconventional market for bio products in the rural sector and their environmental and social implications.
Therefore the SMIBIO Project will propose highly innovative measures to merge the production of bio-based products and biomaterials into agro-food chains to achieve a win-win situation.
The key to achieve this will be stakeholder engagement. Stakeholders such as the Bioenergy Region Straubing-Bogen from Germany, CADOVA and STRADALUX from Portugal, INTA, Bio4 and Bioelectrica from Argentina, IVICAM from Spain and Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia and COLSNACKS from Columbia ensure that the different actors’ interests, aspirations as well as perceived risks will be identified and addressed and that the benefits of the new bio-based economy will be maximized.
A special focus will be laid on biomass availability based on cost supply curves at regional level, market needs and local and national regulations assessment. By this means the best technical solutions for the integrated biorefineries to process the local biomass for each considered region should be achieved.