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DOE seeking input on operation of integrated biorefineries

The US Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s (EERE’s) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) is seeking (DE-FOA-0001481) input from industry, academia, research laboratories, government agencies, and other stakeholders that will help it better understand capabilities—as well as barriers and opportunities—for the operation of integrated biorefineries (IBRs) to produce biofuels, biochemicals, and bioproducts.

BETO is seeking information on all IBR processes and technologies, including any and all systems processes, technologies, methods and equipment employed to convert woody biomass, agricultural residues, dedicated energy crops, algae, municipal solid waste (MSW), sludge from wastewater treatment plants, and wet solids, into biofuels, biochemicals, and bioproducts.

BETO is seeking information on technical challenges that have hindered, or could in the future hinder, the achievement of reliable continuous operations. BETO is particularly interested in receiving stakeholder input on production systems expected to be in the range of feedstock throughput of 1 DTPD (Dry Tonne per Day) to 1,000 DTPD to:

  1. Understand scale-up and mitigate operational risks and challenges;

  2. Develop robust handling of variable solid materials (dry and wet feedstocks, and/or residual solids remaining in the process)and investigate reactor feed systems operating under vacuum or at positive pressures;

  3. Improve pre-processing methodologies to transform diverse types of feedstocks into homogeneous, standardized intermediates;

  4. Advance process intensification focused on simplification (such as reduction in number of process steps); enable reliable, robust continuous operations; increase selectivity and enable hybrid separations; cost reduction through innovative fabrication and construction methods (for example, modularization of systems); and/or efficient water management techniques;

  5. Address unique process issues (for example, the need to remove oxygen and lignin to facilitate efficient processing of feedstocks into products, the need to remove natural or derivatized contaminants), and pathways including biological, thermochemical, catalytic, biochemical, algae, and hybrid pathways; and

  6. Develop strategies to reduce Capital Expense (CapEx) costs by reducing technical risks and ensuring minimum modifications during different phases of the execution (for example, construction, commissioning, operations, etc.) of biorefinery projects.

Background. BETO, one of ten technology development offices within EERE, is working to enable sustainable, nationwide production of biofuels that:

  1. Are compatible with today’s transportation infrastructure;

  2. Reduce greenhouse gas emissions relative to petroleum-derived fuels; and

  3. Can displace a share of petroleum-derived fuels to reduce US dependence on foreign oil.

BETO’s Demonstration and Market Transformation (DMT) Program has supported more than 35 pilot and demonstration facilities throughout the program’s history. These investments have allowed industry partners to integrate unit operations, validate techno-economic assessments, and prove a variety of technologies at scales enabling a path to commercialization.

However, BETO notes, even with years of continuous investments to de-risk the first-of-kind technologies, there are still numerous challenges that need to be addressed in order to achieve reliable and continuous operation of biorefineries that effectively compete with the refining and petrochemical industry.

Many of the challenges are related to the complexity and variability of feedstocks, difficulties encountered with handling of solids in the production process, recalcitrance of feedstocks to efficiently convert into products, inhomogeneity of intermediates causing non-uniform heat and mass transfer during the manufacturing processes, complex multi-step separation and purification steps, difficulties in translating bench and pilot learnings to the next scale-up such as demonstration or pioneer commercial level, and non-competitive cost of goods due to higher capital and operational expenses.

All that information and insight only represents the collective learnings of those projects that received federal financial assistance from DOE, BETO said. DOE is thus seeking information from a larger stakeholder community including private sector, universities, research laboratories and IBR projects funded by other federal funding agencies, to understand their detailed opinions and perspectives.

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