24 Jan 2018

Rehap publish in Horizon Magazine

Horizon magazine recently published an article on Rehap, "Wheat straw waste could be basis for greener chemicals". The article looks at both Rehap and OPTISOCHEM, two EU-funded projects that are researching how to turn leftover wheat straw into bio-based chemicals. Read the full article below.

The straw leftover from harvested wheat could be turned into bio-based chemicals that offer high greenhouse gas savings and do not compete with food supplies or damage ecosystems.

Researchers are hoping to use the huge amounts of wheat straw currently left to rot on European farms to develop the building blocks for greener biochemicals.

The wheat stalks left behind after harvesting cannot be eaten by animals so are normally used as bedding for livestock or left on fields as a way to enrich the soil.

But the OPTISOCHEM project, funded by the EU's Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking Programme, is hoping to transform this excess material into something more useful — a gas called bio-isobutene.

‘Wheat straw is the most important type of agriculture residue in the EU – about 144 million tonnes accumulate each year,’ said Bernard Chaud, director of industrial strategy at Global Bioenergies, in France.

Sugars found in the wheat straw are fermented and turned into a gas at a biorefinery, where bio-isobutene can then be extracted and in turn can be used to create biochemicals. These can then replace fossil fuel-based chemicals that are used to make many plastics, paints, tyres, lubricants, adhesives and sealants.

It could offer a new carbon-neutral energy source called biofuel — one that sucks carbon out of the atmosphere as the plants grow and does not release additional emissions when it is burnt, unlike coal, oil or gas.

Biofuels are considered to be one of the most realistic alternatives to fossil fuels for the transport sector, in particular for the aviation and maritime industries.

But biofuels have come under intense scrutiny as they compete with food crops for land, often in parts of the world where food security is already threatened.

Their carbon emission reductions have also been questioned due to the amount of land and infrastructure needed to produce them.

‘We are facing a challenge — we need more produce for a growing population but we have limited resources,’ said Chaud, who is the coordinator of OPTISOCHEM. ‘At the same time we want to protect the environment and reduce fossil fuel use. With bio-isobutene from wheat straw, we can use a feedstock already available (for biochemicals).’

According to analysis conducted by Chaud, if just 48 million of the 144 million tonnes of wheat straw waste produced in the EU annually was collected, it could produce 21 million tonnes of sugar that could feed 100 commercial biorefinery plants to produce steady supply of biochemicals for use by different industries, including biofuels, and substitute the equivalent of 35 million barrels of fossil fuel per year.

These plants could be built in rural regions where most wheat farms in Europe are often located, bringing new jobs to the countryside during construction and operation.

‘It offers an additional revenue stream,’ said Chaud. ‘(Farmers) will not only sell the grain, but also the straw.’

By the end of the project, Chaud hopes they will have the plans for the first commercial biorefinery, which he said could start paying farmers for their wheat straw in under a decade.

But if plant owners and farmers both have an incentive to collect wheat straw, could too much organic material be taken off the fields, exposing the soil to erosion and degradation?

‘In sustainable farming a fraction of this (wheat straw) residue should remain in the field to reduce erosion and protect the organic carbon and nutrients in the soil,’ said Chaud. ‘But you can export up to 30-60 % without endangering soil quality.’

The project is also taking a conservative approach and only considers one third of the available wheat straw to be available for biofuel and biochemical production in their calculations of the potential future market.

Meanwhile, the leftover materials from the processed wheat straw can be used as an alternative to fossil fuel-based fertilisers, a by-product that would support, rather than hinder, sustainable agriculture.

Green buildings

Additionally, wheat straw waste can be used to support a greener construction industry too.

The EU-funded REHAP project is attempting to transform wheat straw waste into new products that can be used to make eco-friendly resins for wood and biochemicals for greener cement.

‘We are extracting sugars and lignin from wheat straw waste,’ said Dr Miriam García, a materials scientist at Tecnalia Research and Innovation centre in Gipuzkoa, Spain, who helps coordinate REHAP. The project is nearing the end of its first year where the researchers have been developing the processes to extract these biochemicals.

From this material, the team aims to develop bio-resins that can be used to reduce the amount of fossil fuels used to develop artificial chemicals currently used when making wooden planks and boards.

Their biochemicals could also act as an improved binding agent in concrete, helping to reduce the amount of water needed during construction.

They are also extracting sugars and tannins from forestry waste, which will be used to develop wooden boards as well as sustainable polyurethanes, a type of polymer used in home insulation, furniture and bedding.

‘We are demonstrating the viability of using this waste in such a massive sector like construction,’ said Dr García.

By combining biochemicals from wheat straw and wood waste, Dr García believes they could have a big impact on the fossil fuel emissions of the construction industry.

‘We expect to reduce carbon dioxide emissions significantly,’ she said. ‘We think we can reduce fossil fuel resources used by 80-100 %, depending on the material (replaced with a REHAP alternative).’

Currently most wood waste is burned, but by locking it into buildings, carbon can be captured rather than released once again into the atmosphere.

‘We add value to this waste, not only by creating products that save energy or store carbon, but through products that have a higher economic value,’ said Dr García.

By Steve Gillman

17 Jan 2018

Invitation to BBEPP’s event of the year

Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant (BBEPP) has kindly invited Rehap project partners to attend the IMPACT project event, where a new €9m investment will be inaugurated.

A staggering €9.36 million investment agreement has been signed by the European Regional Development Fund Flanders and BBEPP, in the frame of the IMPACT project, and will be inaugurated on 19th February 2018 at BBEPP, Ghent, Belgium.

The IMPACT event will start at 2pm and will celebrate the investment and elaborate how it will be used to build new research infrastructure, specifically for gas fermentation and down-stream processing, which will enable BBEEP to use the full potential of its 15m3 fermenters. The pilot plant makes Flanders a frontrunner in terms of industrial biotechnology, and this investment will stimulate economic growth in and around the region.

BBEPP is expecting to host 400-500 participants, making the event the most anticipated bio-based economy networking event of the year. There will also be the opportunity to listen to a number of interesting talks on the European bio-based economy and IMPACT throughout the day.

As well as an additional networking reception for participants, BBEPP are kindly putting on guided tours of the plant for those interested in going behind the scenes.

If you would like to attend, simply visit the website and register for FREE.

A B2B partnering tool will be available from January 15th for participants only.

15 Jan 2018

Rehap to attend EUBCE 2018

Lars Wietschel from the Resource Lab at the University of Augsburg will be attending the European Biomass Conference and Exhibition (EUBCE) 2018, where he will be presenting a poster on EU agricultural residue potentials as part of the wider Rehap project.

The event, which takes place in Copenhagen on May 14th – 18th, combines one of the largest biomass science and technology conferences with a high quality industry exhibition, attracting biomass professionals from around the globe.

Wietschel’s poster, titled “Assessment of European Union’s agricultural residue potentials available for high-added value products: Current state and future development”, summarises a methodology for the forecasting of agricultural residues in the EU.

The scientific novelty of the work being presented is the assessment of available and future potentials of lignocellulose residues for use on an industrial scale. The poster will present the results of this study which will help forecast the bioeconomic potential of each agricultural residue and future farming possibilities, contributing to the current discussion about the EU’s feedstock availability for a future bioeconomy.

This is a huge opportunity for Rehap and will provide the project with a platform to showcase their advances and results to some of the leading biomass specialists and professionals from around the globe.

We will catch-up with Lars during and after EUBCE 2018 to get his take on the event.

08 Jan 2018

Rehap publish first scientific paper

The Resource Lab at the University of Augsburg have just published Rehap’s first scientific project paper in the Journal of Cleaner Production.

The paper, “Assessment of agroforestry residue potentials for the bioeconomy in the European Union”, was written by a team of four from the Resource Lab at the University of Augsburg: Andrea Thorenz, Lars Wietschel, Dennis Stindt and Axel Tuma.

Accepted at the end of 2017, the paper extends the work of existing EU papers and studies the forecasting of arisings across the EU and how suitable these agroforestry residues are for transforming into high added-value products for the green building sector.

The team revealed some interesting results on which residue in the EU is most important for both the agricultural and forestry sectors, as well as learning about other materials that are of importance for industrial use in the bioeconomy.

The paper concludes by drawing upon the potential barriers facing the use of EU agroforestry waste in the Rehap project due to changes to farming technologies, as well as changes to the availability of this waste due to other concepts such as second-generation biofuels competing for the feedstock, for example.

Read the complete paper here. The Journal of Cleaner Production will be published in March 2018.

03 Jan 2018

Rehap apply to exhibit at leading EUBCE

The Resource Lab of the University of Augsburg, and leaders of Rehap’s waste management research, have been keeping busy applying for conferences, scientific papers, and reporting on recent results.

Lars Wietschel, from the University of Augsburg (UNIA), spoke of the recent developments taking place within Rehap with regards to their research, the first of which being the application they placed to exhibit at the 2018 European Biomass Conference and Exhibition (EUBCE) in Copenhagen in May.

EUBCE is the largest platform and gathering of biomass experts for the collection, exchange and dissemination of scientific and industrial know-how in the field of biomass. The event combines one of the largest biomass science and technology conferences with a high-quality industry exhibition and attracts professionals from around the globe.

If UNIA’s application is accepted, this will be Lars’s first time at the event and he hopes to present methodology and results from the research they have been undertaking on forecasting the future of agricultural and forestry waste arisings in the European Union. Arisings are the surplus materials that form the waste products of agriculture and forests after they have been harvested for other purposes.

“We handed in this extended abstract - the forecasting of arisings - plus an oral presentation. If we are accepted for a full paper, we will publish a peer-reviewed conference paper in the journal ‘Biomass & Bioenergy’,” said Wietschel on applying for the EUBCE.

Part of what has been proposed as part of the EUBCE application includes the results from a completed project deliverable. A report was written and a database was created that provided information on the forecasting of the future of biomass feedstock in the European Union over the next 10 years. The database provides information on the forecasts of waste arisings until the year 2027.

“Some of the interesting results we found from our research on this topic revealed that for agricultural residues we forecast increasing arisings for wheat straw, maize stover and barley straw, and for rape straw we forecast decreasing arisings in the next 10 years, which is mainly due to a reduced demand in first generation biofuels,” said Wietschel. “We also assessed the influence of extreme weather events on the projection of biomass and our results showed that heatwaves and a lot of precipitation have a strong negative influence on their annual production quantities.”

Rehap hope to hear the outcome of their EUBCE application in the new year, so watch this space.