On the road to a bio-based economy, it is widely held that biorefineries are a sustainable use of biomass producing a wide range of material and energy products from renewable raw materials.

However, biorefineries are not a new concept; many traditional biomass conversion units such as the sugar, starch or pulp industry are classified as biorefineries, too. The transition to a bio-based economy is expected to bring up more advanced and complex (e.g. multi-platform) biorefinery systems producing both bio-based products and energy carriers in a highly integrated manner.

Our key research topics

© Andrei Merkulov - Fotolia

Biorefinery concepts

ifeu has been working on the environmental impacts of biorefineries since the 1990s and evaluated dozens of biorefinery concepts for bioenergy (e.g. biodiesel, bioethanol and biogas) but also bio-based products. In the 2010s, a specific focus was put on lignocellulose biorefineries and algae biorefineries. Most often, life cycle assessment and sustainability assessment studies were performed.

© industrieblick / Fotolia

Lignocellulose biorefineries

In a lignocellulose biorefinery, annual and perennial grasses, agricultural residues (e.g. straw, bagasse, shells and husks, corn cobs), wood and wood-like biomass are converted into a wide range of products. Ifeu has participated in a number of research projects on such biorefineries.

Algae biorefinery

Algae biorefineries

Despite the enormous number of known algae species and strains, algae are hardly being exploited as a natural resource so far. Especially microalgae are considered a promising renewable resource due to their great variety of compounds they contain. For more than two decades, ifeu has been involved in various projects exploring renewable resources, bioenergy and biorefineries, including algae cultivation and processing. Therefore, this kind of accompanying research will help to guarantee a sustainable development and to avoid unintended negative impacts, e.g. for the environment.