RBI is advancing biorefining research in a variety of areas using processes that economically convert lignocellulosic biomass into value-added products, such as traditional and new forest products, renewable energy, biochemical, advanced materials and pharmaceuticals.
That particular focus is on the sustainable processing of biomass into a spectrum of bio-based products, such as food, feed, chemicals and materials, as well as bioenergy, such as biofuels, power and heat.
RBI also has a unique capability for high-pressure gasification of biomass, which is expected to provide economic advantages for the production of many chemicals and fuels. These experiments are performed in a 35-foot reactor in the Carbon Neutral Energy Systems building. In related studies, researchers are developing catalysts for improving the syngas yield by converting undesired side products from gasification.
A major focus in the area of thermochemical upgrading of biomass is the development of catalysts for the selective production of specific chemicals. An example was demonstrated by one of the research groups within RBI. They demonstrated how solid acid catalysts can be tuned to selectively produce acrolein or acetol. Another project is focusing on the conversion of glucose to lactic acid, which can be used in polymers.
In the area of biorefining, researchers are working to bridge the gap between two areas: academic research on small-scale reactions with pure reactants and the economically viable processes for the conversion of real biomass on an industrial scale.
The trend is clear. More than 50 biorefineries are being built across North America to test and refine technologies to produce biofuels and chemicals from renewable biomass, which can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
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J. Carson Meredith