IChemE - Sustainable Energy and Chemicals From Agricultural By-Products

17th January 2024 9:00 am

To meet net zero, sustainable biomass must play its part. Indeed, sustainable biomass use will be vital. It is the only source of renewable carbon from which carbon containing fuels and chemicals such as methanol can be made, combined with the capability, at the same time, to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Without biomass or other, less developed CO2 removals technologies, such as direct air carbon capture and sequestration DACCS, net zero is not possible.

For over 10 years, Hemaka has been investigating new approaches for converting biomass into useful renewable biochemicals and biofuels. Biomass typically contains ~30% lignin (depending on the type of biomass) as well as the complex C5 and C6 sugars from which we can produce a variety of bio products. As well as making plants more solid, lignin also protects against attack and so typically interferes with the processes we want to use to separate out the lignin from the target sugars. Using innovative approaches that combine microbiology, plasma physics and engineering, Hemaka has developed a novel plasma-microbubble reactor which can pretreat biomass leading to similar lignin extraction performance to existing technologies (e.g. steam explosion) but with a 20-fold reduction in energy consumption. The process has also been applied to maize for use in anaerobic digestion where results showed a circa 18% greater biogas production compared to untreated raw maize. Looking forward, Hemaka has explored hot- microbubble stripping for the process intensification of bioethanol fermentation produced from lignocellulosic biomass. Scientists have successfully engineered microorganisms capable of efficiently fermenting the complex C5 and C6 sugars found in biomass.

However, these micro-organisms, frequently encounter challenges related to bioethanol inhibition, resulting in the production of diluted product streams. The subsequent purification, for example, of these streams demands substantial energy inputs, rendering the overall process economically unviable. Hemaka will discuss the potential of separating various bioproducts continuously from these less-than-ideal fermentation broths, either by in situ or ex situ hot-microbubble stripping, potentially improving economic performance.

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