Biorefineries

Biorefineries convert corn, soya, sugarcane, wheat and waste into food, animal feed, energy, and materials/chemicals (such as diapers and plastic) [1]. The pictorial process can be seen below.

Figure 1: How Biorefineries Work [1]

However some biorefineries use fossil fuels to process these biofuels and other bioproducts. Using a fuel that one is trying to replace with another fuel, seems counter productive. The process for using biomass instead of fossil fuel is very different and very costly to change over. This is why there are assistance programs that are trying to help make the transition easier by offering different options for biorefineries to take in trying to become greener functioning facilities.

According to the Renewable Fuels Association as of January 2015 there were over 200 biorefineries in the United States. These locations can be seen on the map bellow. Three of these biorefineries are located in Texas while the majority of biorefineries are located in the Midwestern states (Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, etc.).

Figure 2: United States Biorefinery Locations [2]

These biorefineries, crossing the United States, are producing 14,575 million gallons of biofuel per year [2]. This does not include the other bioproducts that are also being produced by these biorefineries. Biofuel and these other bioproducts can be broken down in to two categories, material products and energy products. Energy products are those products that can be used to provide electricity, heat or transportation services, while material products are not used for energy but rather for their chemical or physical properties [3].

There are three types of energy products that are produced at biorefineries. These energy products are gaseous biofuels, solid biofuels and liquid biofuels. Gaseous biofuels include biogas and biomethane, solid biofuels include pellets and charcoal, and liquid biofuels include bioethanol and biodiesel. There are also six types of material products that biorefineries produce. These material products are chemicals ranging from fine chemicals to bulk chemicals, organic acids including lactic, polymers and resins such as furan resins and starch-based plastics, biomaterials including wood panels and paper, food and animal feed and lastly fertilizers [3]. The purpose behind these bioproducts is to hopefully one-day replace petroleum based products including gas and plastics.

However to replace petroleum based products one has to start implementing other products to take the job of petroleum based products. This is why the government has offered help to those biorefineries that are willing to change their consumption of fossil fuels in to the consumption of biomass. There is both a government provided grant and loan to help biorefineries convert from fossil fuel consumption to biomass consumption.

The grant is a federal grant program that is eligible to biorefineries wishing to transition to biomass, municipal solid waste or landfill gas consumption and is administrated by the US Department of Agriculture. An eligible biorefinery must have been in existence on or before June 18, 2008, and must be a commercial, construction, industrial, investor-owned utility, local government, municipal utilities, cooperative utilities, state government, federal government, tribal government, agricultural, or institutional sector. The equipment requirements are that a facility that converts renewable biomass into biofuels, and biobased products, and may also produce electricity. The grant is only allocated for fifty percent of the total project cost as long as amount does not exceed the maximum award for the fiscal year. Ninety percent of which will be allocated during project construction and the last ten percent, which will be allocated after demonstration of successful completion of the conversion process [4].

The loan is a federal loan program provided for biorefineries seeking to update from fossil fuel consumption to biomass, municipal solid waste or landfill gas consumption. The sectors eligible for the loan include commercial, construction, industrial, investor-owned utility, local government, municipal utilities, cooperative utilities, state government, federal government, tribal government, agricultural, and institutional. The project must also meet three requirements. First the project must be for the development and construction or the retrofitting of a commercial-scale biorefinery using one of the eligible technologies. Second the project must use an eligible feedstock to produce advanced biofuels and biobased products. Third the majority of the project must be to produce advanced biofuels. The eligible advanced biofuels included are biofuels derived from cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin, sugar, starch, crop residue, vegetative waste material, animal waste, food waste, and yard waste, other fuels derived from cellulose, diesel fuel derived from vegetable oil and animal fat, and biogas. Biogas is either landfill gas, sewage waste treatment gas, or gas produced through the conversion of organic mater from renewable biomass. Ethanol derived from corn kernel starch is not an eligible advanced biofuel. The loan can be a maximum of eighty percent of the project costs and maxes out at two hundred and fifty million dollars. The term of the loan will be twenty years or the useful life of the project. Whichever is less is the applicable loan term. The rate of the loan will be a Lender’s customary commercial interest rate. This rate can either be fixed or variable and fees will vary with percent guarantee and loan amount [5].

Two notices for solicitation application involving biofuels/biorefineries were submitted for the 2015 fiscal year. There are two biofuel programs trying to be implemented. The first is called the Advanced Biofuel Payment Program and is approximating 13.9 million dollars. The second is called The Biorefinery Assistance Program and is approximating 74.4 million dollars [6]. Between the two programs there is 88.3 million dollars that will hopefully be going towards the development of biofuels and biorefineries.

The amount of money being implemented and the amount of money that will hopefully be implemented in to the advancement of biorefineries and biofuels is amazing. There are people that care about the future and want to make sure that there will be a future. There are constant innovations to make current products better or even make new products that are better than the original products. Biorefineries have not replace petroleum refineries and they probably will not in the near future but there are advancements being made and as long as they continue to move in the positive direction there is hope for a cleaner world. I believe that biorefineries and biofuels are and will be important to our future, and that they are not going away. With these improvements hopefully they will continue to make a positive outcome on the future.

References

[1] How a Biorefinery Works. Novozymes, Rethink Tomorrow. http://www.novozymes .com/en/sustainability/benefits-for-the-world/biobased-economy/benefits-of-biobased-economy/Documents/How%20a%20biorefinery%20works.pdf

[2] Biorefinery Locations. Renewable Fuels Association (2015). http://www.ethanolrfa.org/bio-refinery-locations/

[3] The Biorefinery concept: Using biomass instead of oil for producing energy and chemicals. Science Direct (2015). http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0196890410000373

[4] USDA- Repowering Assistance Biorefinery Program. DSIRE (2015). http://programs.dsireusa.org/system/program/detail/5316

[5] USDA Biorefinery Assistance Program. DSIRE (2015). http://programs.dsireusa.org/system/program/detail/5313

[6] Notices of Solicitation of Applications — Rural Development Funding. United States Department of Agriculture (2015). http://www.rd.usda.gov/newsroom/notices-solicitation-applications-nosas

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