A biorefinery can be defined as a complex system for the sustainable processing of biomass by a combination of biological, chemical, and physical processes to obtain a range of material products (building block chemicals, nutraceuticals, pharmaceuticals, polymers) and energy (biofuels, heat and power). By producing a mix of products through flexible and efficient processes, biorefineries have the potential to make biomass processing profitable. Biorefineries also represent a sustainable and low-pollution system alternative to petroleum processing. The projected market created throughout the entire value chain is $295 billion by 2020 (King, 2010). The importance of this renewable feedstock for the processing industry is expected to increase as indicated by the interest of different research institutions, government bodies and companies around the world.
Designing a biorefinery according to both economic and environmental objectives remains a challenging task. In the past, process systems were designed for maximum profitability using techno-economic criteria with little concern on environmental impacts. The challenge is to find the design that minimises waste, cost, energy consumption and/or environmental impact. The Economic value and Environmental Impact (EVEI) analysis methodology and other tools presented in this website originate from such a necessity in order to help the analysis, integration and design of efficient and sustainable biorefinery systems.
The need for tools and frameworks to the special case of biorefineries may well create a new branch of process systems engineering branded as Biorefinery Engineering. A formal definition of Biorefinery Engineering or, even better, Biorefinery Systems Engineering may be suggested as:
“Biorefinery Engineering is a discipline providing a methodological framework to address the challenges posed by the planning and design of sustainable biorefineries, from a systematically integrated perspective that accounts for inter- and intra-process integration opportunities together with external interactions and their complexities, ranging from agronomic, physical, chemical, biological, process systems, economic, environmental and policy issues, with emphasis on integration across the life cycle and within and across the system levels or scales”.
It is one of the missions of the recently created IBEST: The Institute of Biorefinery Engineers, Scientists and Technologists is to develop and advance biorefinery engineering fundamental knowledge, technologies and education.
Satchatippavarn, Sireethorn; Martinez-Hernandez, Elias; Leung Pah Hang, Melissa Yuling; Leach, Matthew; Yang, Aidong. Urban biorefinery for waste processing. Journal of Chemical Engineering Research and Design, 2015. In press, .
Martinez-Hernandez, Elias; Leach, Matthew; Yang, Aidong. Impact of bioenergy production on ecosystem dynamics and services – A case study on UK heathlands. Environmental Science and Technology 2015; 49(9): 5805–5812.
Martinez-Hernandez, Elias; Campbell, Grant M.; Sadhukhan, Jhuma. Economic and environmental impact marginal analysis of biorefinery products for policy targets. Journal of Cleaner Production 2014; 74:74–85.