Biomass Biorefinery Network (BBNet)

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: Biology

Abstract

Today's industrial economy is built largely on the petrochemical industries that provide us with the fuels, chemicals and materials that we consume. The petrochemicals sector is worth around £50b to the UK economy each year, but is unsustainable due to the impacts of net carbon emissions on the environment. Global commitments to move to a carbon-neutral economy by the middle of the century mean that we need to find sustainable resources to replace petroleum. Non-food biomass, such as crop residues and food waste, can provide a renewable carbon-neutral resource that can provide the energy rich carbon chemistries needed for the provision of fuels, chemicals and materials. The Biomass Biorefinery Network (BBNet) will serve as a focal point to build and sustain a dynamic community of industrial and academic practitioners working together to develop new processes for the conversion of non-food biomass into sustainable fuels, chemicals and materials. BBNet will bring together scientists and businesses with interests in biorenewable products and provide small scale research funding to help initiate new collaborations and pump-prime new research areas. BBNet will encourage early-career scientists to get involved in the biorefinery sector through funding competitions and workshops.

BBNet will serve as a focal point to drive forward the UK's bio-based sector and help make the UK the most attractive place for international companies to develop the technologies to underpin the new industrial sector. The network will commission reports that will provide information and intelligence on new areas of opportunity in the biorefinery sector. BBNet will serve as a voice for the business and academic sectors and engage closely with government policy makers to ensure they understand the potential benefits offered by carbon-neutral biorenewable products in both economic and environmental terms. We will commission a survey of relevant UK and international companies to see what factors wold enable sector development and make the UK a more attractive place to develop their businesses in the biorenewables sector.

The translation of scientific knowledge into commercial processes requires the ability to up-scale processes and demonstrate their techno-economic viability. The UK is developing a network of enabling capability through the BioPilots UK, which encompasses regional open-access biorefinery facilities in Wales, York, Teesside and Scotland. BBNet will work closely with Biopilots UK and develop funding competitions that allow industrially relevant innovative processes to be tested at scale to help build business opportunities.

Technical Summary

The world is committed to move to a low carbon economy in the coming decades, requiring a shift from the use of fossil resources to provide power, fuel, chemicals and materials. Sustainable, non-food, biomass provides a low carbon alternative to petroleum to provide liquid fuels and chemicals for transport and manufacturing. The UK has a world leading science base that can drive innovation and take advantage of the £multi-billion opportunities created by the switch from fossil carbon.

BBNet will emphasise translational research that encompasses sustainable biomass provision through to processing and production of fuels, chemicals and materials; encouraging genomic, synthetic and systems biology approaches in the research we sponsor. Feedstocks will include agricultural and forest residues, food industry and brewing waste, municipal and commercial solid waste, marine biomass and biomass crops. Our remit will encompass bioprocessing, bio-catalysis and fermentation of biomass, and will embrace chemical conversion and engineering. We will work with Supergen Bioenergy and other NIBB to develop joint areas that combine our complementary communities. We will bring together expertise from the bioscience, chemistry, engineering, environment, mathematics, economics, social and policy sectors to drive technological innovation through to market adoption founded on economic, social and environmental sustainability.

BBNet will energise the UK bio-based sector and make the UK an attractive place for international companies to develop new technologies. We will bring together the industry and academic players needed to drive innovation, and provide resources to catalyse their activities. BBNet will provide an information hub to gather sector intelligence to inform policy makers, researchers and businesses, and help develop an enabling regulatory framework for innovation. We request an initial 5 years of funding to establish BBNet.

Planned Impact

BBNet will serve as a national focal point for the biomass biorefinery sector, bringing together businesses and academics interested in the replacement of fossil carbon resources with low carbon alternatives that are sourced in a manner that is compatible with food security. BBNet will consolidate the successes and communities built in several Phase 1 NIBB including LBNet, P2P, FoodWasteNet and aspects of PhycoNet. BBNet will build from this strong base by encouraging new companies and researchers to participate in industrial biotechnological approaches to biorefining. BBNet will support research collaborations to later stage TRL through close coordination with BioPilotsUK, through small grants allowing lab-scale work to be prepared for scale up and allow some initial pilot scale trials.

We anticipate impacts that will benefit the economy, environment and society of the UK. The most immediate beneficiaries will be the small and large businesses that will benefit from the interactions and collaborations with the UK's world leading science base that will be made possible by BBNet. BBNet will bring businesses and researchers together around major challenges and opportunities and provide research funding to develop these new relationships and ideas. We will encourage recipients of BBNet funds to use these to generate proof of principle data that can be used to secure greater investment and progress their work towards delivering new business opportunities. This will lead to increased economic activity and new employment in the sustainable industrial bioeconomy.

By encouraging innovation in the area of sustainable low carbon replacements for petroleum-derived fuels, chemicals and materials, the work of BBNet will bring impacts that help the UK meet its carbon emission reduction targets and help mitigate against the worst impacts of climate change brought about by global warming. By focusing UK biorefining technologies of waste and residues, we will increase UK sustainability through better use of resources, decreased use of landfill and a more circular economy. We will encourage the use of life cycle analysis to ensure that the environmental benefits from the work we sponsor is maximised.

UK society will benefit from the economic and environmental benefits that will be realised from biomass biorefining and the widespread use of sustainable biorenewable products. We will work to ensure that the UK public is made aware of the potential and realised benefits of biorenewable replacements for petroleum-derived products by developing, and circulating, good news stories around BBNet and its community's activities. BBNet will respond to areas that grab public attention, such as the current interest in plastics in the marine environment, illustrating how our work could make an impact that could improve this situation (by the greater use of degradable bioplastics for example).

The UK research community will benefit from greater access to resources to pump-prime new research activities, greater engagement with industry and clearer pathways to impact from their research. The Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy community will benefit from the service BBNet will undertake in developing and implementing clear lines of communication with UK policy makers to ensure that the full potential benefits of this community to the future of the UK is realised, and that this realisation is reflected in supportive national policies and funding.

BBNet will develop an international presence through engagement with other nations active in the sector, especially those involved in "Mission Innovation". We will take a leading role in engaging participation of leading researchers and businesses from other nations in our activities and ensure that the UK has a strong voice at international IBB events.

Publications

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