Biomass makes better chemicals than fuel

November 15, 2011
Nov 15, 2011 - In an article in the journal Angewandte Chemie, Esben Taarning and co-workers from the catalyst company Haldor Topsøe and the Lindoe Offshore Renewables Center (Denmark) argue that the most efficient use of biomass is for the production of petrochemical alternatives, rather than energy.

Biomass differs from other renewable resources, the authors say, since the energy it contains is stored as chemical bonds. This enables biomass to be used for several purposes apart from electricity and heat generation, such as the production of liquid fuels and chemicals. While to date most of the biomass used by industry has been burned to generate energy, in the long-term neither that use, nor the use of biomass to produce fuels, are optimal, the authors argue.

"It is not the most sensible solution to convert biomass into fuels," Taarning notes. "In the first place, the amount of biomass available does not meet the demand for fuels; in the second, the chemical characteristics of fuels and biomass are too different, so the processes would be too complex and uneconomical."

"In contrast, it really makes sense to use biomass as the feedstock for chemical industry. The available biomass should suffice to replace the fossil feedstocks used in the production of chemicals. The chemical characteristics of biomass and many bulk chemicals are also very similar, so the processes should be more economical than those for the conversion into fuels."

The full article is available for download here.

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