Where do the opportunities for biorefining lie? What are the technological and non-technological obstacles? And how can we learn from each other on an international level the best ways to develop successful and sustainable biorefinery systems which are socially acceptable? This summarises the goal of Task 42, a programme within the IEA Bioenergy Technology Collaboration which is coordinated by Wageningen Food & Biobased Research.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) works to ensure reliable, affordable and clean energy for its 29 member countries. IEA Bioenergy Task 42 sees sustainable energy as an integral part of a circular and biobased economy in which sustainably produced biomass is used for the coproduction of (for example) ingredients for human food or animal feed as well as materials, chemicals, fuels, electricity and cooling/heating via biorefinery processes.
“Task 42 started in 2007, when biorefining was still in its infancy and very few people knew what it involved,” says coordinator René van Ree of Wageningen Food & Biobased Research. “The focus during those early years was on building and exchanging knowledge. This included, among others things, the development of a classification system to clarify what biorefining involves. Biorefining revolves around the unravelling of biomass, and around conversion systems, platforms and products. By describing various biorefinery systems in a consistent way, Task 42 has helped international policy makers learn to speak the same language.”
The work of Task 42 is determined for periods of three years. For the period 2016-2018, the focus is on identifying technical and non-technical bottlenecks. This includes issues such as the latest regulations, public perception and the sustainability of biomass. Van Ree: “By learning from each other we aim to find solutions and develop market opportunities. We are building new business cases for using available biomass streams in a sustainable way; for instance, by extracting valuable sugars and proteins from biomass and studying how they can be used for the production of biobased products and bioenergy. We also monitor developments in the 9 member countries and place promising biorefinery technologies on the joint agenda. At the same time, we are developing an expert system to test the feasibility of biorefinery systems, taking into account the business economic, technical and sustainability aspects.”
Another aspect of Task 42 is the certification and standardisation of biobased products and studying what is happening on an international level in this regard. Finally, the programme focuses on communication and training. “For instance, we organise two international meetings a year in one of the participating countries,” explains Van Ree. “This allows us to come into contact with stakeholders, find out which problems they are experiencing and lay the foundations for new market initiatives and Task activities.”
Active in the broad field of biorefining
Wageningen Food & Biobased Research is coordinator of IEA Bioenergy Task 42. “We are well-suited to this task,” says Van Ree. “As a research institute we are active in the broad field of biorefining. We work on unlocking biomass, converting sugars, proteins and other components, and turning them into marketable products in cooperation with industry. This sets us apart from other institutes, which are often only involved in sub-areas while we oversee the entire chain.”