31 Jul 2017

PhD student carries 4kg of straw back from Mobile Flip meeting

Rehap sent PhD student Lars Wietschel to Paris to attend the workshop of another SPIRE 2030 project, Mobile Flip – the Mobile and Flexible Industrial Processing of Biomass. He was there to exchange developments and resource sampling, build friendships and contacts with other project researchers, and to return home with a rucksack full of straw.

Currently working as research assistant at the Chair for Production & Supply Chain Management at the University of Augsburg, Lars was invited to attend Mobile Flip’s second Demonstration Technical Meeting by Dr Tarja Tamminen, the project coordinator of Mobile Flip and leader of Rehap’s second work package, and Dr Andrea Thorenz who is involved with Rehap’s waste management work package.

One of Mobile Flip’s main objectives is to use mobile processing for the treatment of the underexploited organic materials that are produced as by-products when agriculture and agroforestry are harvested, and utilise these biomass resources into products such as fuel or biodegradable pesticides.

As a result of Rehap’s waste management research, the University of Augsburg identified the region of Bassin Parisien, the area surrounding Paris, as the region with the largest bioeconomic potential of wheat straw across Europe. This lowland belt around Paris can produce crops all year round because of its optimum climate, compared with Germany where the winters are too harsh for harvests to grow and, therefore, the bioeconomy is not as prevalent.

Lars was the only Rehap project associate on the Mobile Flip workshop but remarked on how interesting it was to meet members working under the same umbrella cause – the better use of biomass. He added that, “it was nice to go and meet other researchers as it is easy to forget, or put the time in, to network with other projects. Whilst Rehap and Mobile Flip have different project outcomes, meeting and talking with them has definitely built a great new network for the future.”

The aim of Lars’ participation was on the one hand to do just this and exchange different SPIRE projects with similar aims, and on the other hand to retrieve some wheat samples for different biophysical analytics.

The meeting consisted of numerous field trips around Paris to different companies and organisations involved in agricultural and forestry activities. On-site demonstrations included the application of heat and chemical processes in the production of energy products from biomass, the demonstration of agricultural biomass production, and a visit to an industrial site processing agricultural biomass.

“For me, the most interesting visit was to the university, UniLaSalle, in Beauvais, as the work being carried out there is most closely linked to our first task in Rehap, the assessment of residue potentials,” reported Lars. The university has a large agricultural research institute participating in important studies on the maximisation of cereal and straw yields by maintaining sustainable, healthy and productive high soil qualities, also known as the sustainable removal rate.

When Lars asked UniLaSalle whether a batch of their straw could be taken back to Germany for testing, “they replied by stating that they had a lot of straw left over from their research acitivites and so they kindly handed me loads! Luckily I had my hiking bag with me and so I managed to carry four kilograms of straw back with me on the train.”

When the straw arrived back in Augsburg, it was sent to the laboratory in Valladolid for further investigation for the Rehap project.

26 Jul 2017

Karel De Winter attends Biotech 2017 conference

In June, Karel De Winter from Bio Base Pilot Plant (BBEPP), partners on the Rehap project, attended the four-day BioTech 2017 conference in Prague on important aspects of advanced biotechnologies. Across the four days, lectures and poster presentations were organised under the following sessions: medical and pharmaceutical biotechnology; environmental biotechnology; food and agriculture biotechnology; and biorefinery and industrial biotechnology.

The biorefinery and industrial biotechnology sessions focused on discovering and searching for new ways to process different kinds of waste, how to obtain valuable compounds such as biofuels and bioplastic building blocks, and also a key aspect of what De Winter works on at BBEPP.  “We combine technologies (biomass pre-treatment, green chemistry, fermentation, biorefining and downstream purification) for advanced manufacturing of converting biomass, in particular industrial side streams and agricultural crops, into bio-based products,” explains De Winter.

The environmental biotechnology sessions focused on how biological systems can help restore contaminated environments – land, air and water. Special attention was dedicated to the research associated with energy recovery and material recovery from waste to create a circular economy, when resources are kept in use for as long as possible by recovering and regenerating products and materials.

De Winter added, “This was very appropriate in regard to the work Rehap are doing in following the codes of a circular economy, by avoiding waste and trying to maximise the use of all waste streams.”

De Winter attended numerous invited lectures during the event, which took place in the spectacular National Library, on both biorefinery and environmental biotechnology. Discussions were centred around how to make use of all renewable and biological materials, and the need to establish an outline of which processes and technologies are the most noteworthy and applicable.

Tommaso Lotti, from Politechnico di Milano in Italy, presented a stimulating lecture entitled “Physiochemical characterisation of EPS-based biomaterial recovered from anammox granular sludge”. Anammox is an oxidation process appropriate for the treatment of nitrogen-rich wastewater. The granulation process – breakup – of anammox biomass offers an effective strategy to preserve the biomass in anammox reactors. The recovery of biomaterials from the sludge produced — the semi-solid slurry created from wastewater treatment processes — for use in a variety of industrial sectors would substantially increase the sustainability and economics of wastewater treatment, promoting the development of the circular economy that Rehap is working toward.

De Winter was particularly excited by the presentation led by Henk Noorman from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, entitled “Syngas fermentation design for hybrid biorefineries”, a highly relevant topic but one that has not been widely covered in the Rehap project. Henk discussed turning gas from fuel production of domestic and industrial waste, as well as forestry and agro-residues, into syngas - a mixture of gases comprising of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and hydrogen. This is produced by converting organic based carbon materials, followed by fermentation to bioethanol for the use in biomass products.

De Winter concluded that, “it is always interesting to network and meet people at such events and it is great to see that there is a lot of work being done on the biorefinery concept. Attending the event made it clear that Rehap is a noticeable figure in the biomass market, producing models from different waste sources and actually making final usable products out of them.”

25 Jul 2017

Collecting the data to prove the benefits of REHAP products

Work is now underway to perform detailed life cycle assessment of the social, economic and environmental benefits of the planned REHAP products. This work will examine every step of the processes involved in taking the raw bio-material to a green product to be used by the construction industry. Giorgio Urbano of Italian firm D’Appolonia is leading this work and here explains progress being made at the start of the project.

Some of the first activities in the REHAP project to start producing concrete results are those related to assessing the energy, technological and economical impacts of the materials being developed for the final bio-products, all along their life cycle from raw material to final product. This vital work is being done in Work Package 6, which has defined some clear objectives:

  • To define a set of key performance indicators (KPI) for the environmental, social and economic impact evaluation of the REHAP processes.
  • To carry out market analysis of competitive materials and products on the market • To manage the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), Life Cycle Costing (LCC) and Social Life Cycle Assessment for the different technologies
  • To perform integrated environmental, economic and social assessment of the REHAP bio-based building panel
  • To lead resource efficiency studies for further processes optimisation

This work is being led by Giorgio Urbano of D’Appolonia, which will specifically evaluate the environmental, economic and social impacts of Rehap bio-based processes through Life Cycle Assessment (E-LCA), Life Cycle Cost Analysis (LLCA) and Social Life Cycle Assessment (S-LCA).

These assessments will be further used as a starting point to evaluate the environmental, economic and social impacts of the developed bio-based building panels. The work will also involve comparing the REHAP panels to conventional non-renewable building panels available on the market, which offer similar performance credentials. REHAP expects that the environmental and cost benefits of its panels will then form the basis of a commercial business plan that will enable their penetration into the market as a viable green building solution.

Later on in the project, a full market analysis will also be performed to ensure that the pricing for the REHAP panels is competitive compared to the fossilbased alternatives and other bio-based alternatives already on the market.

“This work has now started in the project,” says Giorgio Urbano. “We need to develop a product that has positive economic, environmental and social impact. Every partner in the project is providing a piece of this bigger picture, so we need to start now and collect all these inputs and data to make sure that we build the right final product. By analysing the impact of each part of the process, we will be able to do that.

“So, in order to have an accurate assessment of the total impact of the final product, we need to have all the inventory data, starting with the raw material and passing through the entire processes including the final production of the panels,” he explains further.

“For example, in the green cement, we need a plasticizer that is made with some bio-based materials, but we have to produce these biobased materials in the first place. To produce these, we need lignin and to have this lignin we need straw – the base material that starts the whole thing off and where we start our LCA.”

At this stage of the project, the work being done by D’Appolonia is in the scoping phase, where the team is defining the pathways for the materials and processes towards the final product and how these interact as well as the interdependencies of the various aspects of the work within the project by other partners.

“Part of the task ahead, therefore, is to build a map indicating where the interactions between data, partners, processes and materials lie. We have now built this map,” explains Urbano.

“We started with the project descriptions, describing the activities of each partner and collecting the data provided from them for each process step for the four products being developed. We started with simplified blocks for a diagram, in which material flows were included. Then we identified the responsible partner for each of the project stages and looked at how they would be providing the related data, to assess the environmental, economic and social impact of the target processes.

“We have also started to define the table of contents related to the market analysis; what could be foreseen for month 18, for example and so, we have provided this structure, where each responsible partner will be in charge of providing some market data about a competitive product in order to evaluate the market potential for each of the intermediate products.”

With the framework in place, the next stage is to start collecting the data, split into blocks of time within the project, from the first phase, which is the research phase, approaching the finish and development and the second phase which is the processing, scaling up and demonstration.

“We will perform an intermediate as well as a final environmental and economic impact study based on the scaling up approaches; trying to understand what could be the environmental impact in a large-scale production; even if this large-scale production is not in operation, but just on paper,” explains Urbano.

“The only thing that we are missing in the description of the activities so far is the selfsufficiency studies that are also being developed in WP6; so, in parallel with the LCA, the LCC and social lexical analysis, we are going to develop around four resource efficiency audits of the final outcomes.

“Up to now, the mapping and categorising of all the processes is going to be used for both actions. The foreseen action will be to categorise a benchmark for the different processes and to provide the studies and suggested efficiency measures.

“The project is seeking to provide an environmental benefit in the processes and products being developed in terms of a lower use of fossil-based resources,” concludes Urbano. “The target is set on 80-100 per cent less fossilbased resources used and shorter emission and energy consumption up to 30 per cent.

“So, while we are expecting the project to provide these environmental and economic benefits we don’t have enough data at the moment to make these claims. That is what we hope to provide.”