Sustainable biorefinery design

I study the design of sustainable biorefinery chains. Technical models are developed to simulate the technical feasibility and performance of process designs, using engineering rules and laboratory data. These results are the basis for assessing the environmental sustainability.

Two main research challenges are:

  • How does environmental sustainability compete with the technical and economic performance?
  • How to include sustainability during process design?

Highlights of the past year

In the paper ‘The potential of optimised process design to advance LCA performance of algae systems’ we discussed how process simulations can advance LCA results. We propose to perform process simulations to evaluate various production and design scenarios, and to link these to LCA.

In another study, the effect of biological properties of maize stover on the processing efficiency, economic and environmental impacts was assessed. The maize stover was grouped based on its digestibility, i.e. normal (current practice), difficult, and easy (breeding for biorefinery). The processing efficiency into sugars was determined for each of these groups. This was done for severe and moderate processing conditions. For the current maize only severe processing results in acceptable product yields. The results show that maize stover with easy digestibility has the best overall performance. This performance can be achieved with moderate processing. The combination of easy digestibility and moderate processing results in reducing the overall environmental impacts and cost by 15% compared to current practice (see Figure).

Type of student projects envisioned

  • sustainability analysis (mostly LCA). Typical case studies: algae, coffee cherries, potato, wheat, sugar beet, maize.
  • development of sustainability assessment methods
  • integrating LCA with early process design
  • scenario modelling of biorefineries
  • biomass storage (lab work linked to model development)
  • logistic modelling of algae biorefinery chains.