Sustainable Biorefineries: What was Learned from the Design, Analysis and Implementation
Bioeconomies need sustainable technologies and strategies for biomass processing.
One of the best ways to do that is to consider biorefineries as a practical way to achieve real developments in the industry for integral production of energy, food, feed and chemicals under an ideal dream of replacing today’s crude-oil and basically using the accessible biomass in the world as much as possible. Additionally, the existent biofuel facilities are constantly adding new processing lines without integral design strategies, and possibly repeating the past design and implementation errors in refineries based on crude-oil. In recent years, more as a fashion or tendency, these processing lines from biofuels industry have been integrated in a system called “biorefinery” and many sectors have supported this idea through policies to incentivize the development of the bio-based economies adopting this concept. The design of biorefineries is presented as a relevant topic due to the multiple processing paths that could be available to obtain a set of desirable products. However, after many scientific efforts in design through well validated methodologies the biorefineries currently are not working properly or are more close to a conventional standalone biomass processing. Some big facilities already implemented today as biorefineries are closed or working just as standalone process (biofuels plant), but not through a promising multiproduct biorefinery configuration for which the resulting design was developed. In this work, 13 biorefineries were analysed including 4 industrial cases that were implemented after specific design and different industrial plants that use different raw materials of renewable origin. To achieve this, different strategic cases were considered: raw materials with inherent logistics restrictions, technical, economic, environmental assessments together with social considerations and finally market restrictions. As a result, and based on different case studies (where these process engineering strategies where applied through conceptual design using Aspen Plus and Potential Environmental Impacts) the positive and negative lessons are discussed in detail. The main result is an overall learning from different cases of study for future design, analysis and implementation of new biorefineries with a real sustainability and avoiding a repetition of the same evolution that risky and controversial crude-oil refineries had.