Today, with its boundless utility, we use biomass as a raw material in the manufacture of everything from paints and toothpaste to electricity and fuel for fossile free aviation. RISE Processum develops concepts for the refineries of the future, with the motto, ‘anything that can be done by oil can be done better by the forest’.
A biorefinery can be compared to an oil refinery, in which raw oil is processed to make various products. The difference is that the raw material in a biorefinery comes solely from renewable sources. The forest is one common source, although in principle any biomass can be used. In addition to forestry raw materials, waste products from agriculture and abattoirs are examples of raw materials used in biorefineries, while end products can be anything from paint, viscose and chemicals to electricity, heat and fuel.
Sweden’s largest industrial investment
In future, if we are to meet climate challenges and national environmental goals, we will need to manufacture both more and new bio-based products. One step in the right direction is the Flagship Biorefinery project conducted by RISE subsidiary RISE Processum. This goal of the project is to increase the number of bio-based products and involves a feasibility study into the construction of a full-scale biorefinery in Örnsköldsvik. Should such an investment prove viable, it would be Sweden’s largest ever industrial investment and would not only benefit the climate but also generate 5,000 new jobs around the region.
Conducted during autumn 2017, forestry landowners and industries, the chemical sector and other stakeholders have participated in the feasibility study, which demonstrated that the economic prerequisites are in place for the construction of such a facility. The next step will be to appoint a project organisation to examine the financing issues and how access to raw materials can be ensured. Only when these issues have been resolved can the biorefinery become a reality.
The new biorefinery will be able to manufacture products such as cellulose for textiles. ethanol, biogas, bioresin, aviation fuel and protein for use in feed for agriculture and agriculture or lignin for the cement industry. If the planned biorefinery is built, it is estimated that its annual production will be in the region of 1.7 million tons of bio-based products.
The biorefinery of the future
The pace of development in the field of biorefineries must be quickened. We must identify new products that can be manufactured from biomass; however, we also need to utilise forestry materials in an efficient manner. Forest growth currently stands at approximately 120 million m3 per year, around 75% of which we fell. If we are to utilise more forest, we must do so wisely. This may be a matter of obtaining greater value from sawdust and bark and making high-quality use of existing industry waste streams. The Biorefinery of the Future is a Vinnova-funded regional VINNVÄXT initiative being conducted by RISE Processum in collaboration with local and regional public authorities, industry and academia along the Norrland coast of northeast Sweden. VINNVÄXT is a programme for renewing and moving Sweden ahead by promoting regional growth through dynamic innovation systems, including this initiative to create growth in the field of biorefineries.