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Biorefinery processes, advanced biofuels and the bioeconomy have been the theme of many conferences, documentaries, newspaper articles and announced research grants in recent times. Furthermore, it is now generally accepted that biofuels are not only cost competitive but also offer opportunities for lowering the emission of green house gases. A biorefinery refers to processes for the conversion of diverse biobased feedstocks into a wide spectrum of products that may include biofuels. The abundance of woody biomass in Canada makes it an important potential feedstock. Presently, the partitioning and conversion of the sugars from woody biomass into bioproducts is more difficult than other well established processes that use corn or sugar cane as feedstock. The development of new processes that are technologically and economically feasible is therefore key to the commercialization, production and distribution of biochemicals and biofuels. The objective of my project titled “the development of hemicellulose based biorefineries for integration into a Kraft process” is to develop, optimize and propose profitable biorefineries that can be implemented within the next couple of years. A feasible way to achieve this is with an integrated forest biorefinery (IFBR), a multiproduct facility where biofuels or biochemicals are co-produced with dissolving pulp from an existing mill. Dissolving pulp can be used for the production of textiles, household articles or packaging materials.

kraftpapermill

Kraft Paper Mill

The advantages of adding on a biofuels process to an existing Kraft mill include:

  • Pulp mills have a well established biomass supply chain
  • The pulp production capacity can be increased
  • Synergy with existing fracture will lower investment costs
  • Availability of skilled manpower onsite
  • Sale of bioproducts will increase revenues

The feedstock for the biorefinery process will be a pre-hydrolysate stream that is diverted from the Kraft process where it is typically incinerated to produce steam.

The production of ethanol and furfural are the two cases studies that have been treated. The approach taken involves the development of models with computer simulators using data derived from experiments.  The computer based models were then used to project and reduce the investment costs, energy requirement and water demand of the IFBR. Based on the results obtained, I have been able to demonstrate that IFBRs can successfully increase the revenue of a pulp mill through production and sales of sustainable chemicals and products. Furthermore, the onsite energy and water consumption increase can be adequately supplied by implementing energy saving measures in the mill. The pulp and paper industry provides jobs for thousands of people, especially in rural communities all over Canada. Adding on a biorefinery can help prevent the shutdown of many mills that are currently struggling to remain open due to a low demand for pulp and paper commodity products.

Toppila_Pulp_Mill_Oulu_1992d

Abandoned Pulp Mill

Being a BioFuelNet Canada affiliated graduated student has been instrumental to the success of my project. The excellent training opportunities provided to graduate students through exchange programs, online certificate courses and conference travel awards helped me develop novel ideas, build an international network of contacts and also served as a stepping stone for my personal and professional development.

 

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