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.”