Process synthesis and optimization of biorefinery configurations



Recently, there has been a growing interest in the development of cost-effective technologies for the production of biofuels. A common approach to biofuel research is to invent or improve a biochemical or thermochemical conversion step. Subsequently, other conversion and separation steps are added to form a complete biorefinery flowsheet. Because this approach is structured around a specific conversion step, it may limit the possibilities of configuring optimal and innovative biorefineries. This article proposes a novel and systematic two-stage approach to the synthesis and optimization of biorefinery configurations, given available feedstocks and desired products. In the synthesis stage, a systems-based approach is developed to create a methodical way for synthesizing integrated biorefineries. This method is referred to as “forward-backward” approach. It involves forward synthesis of biomass to possible intermediates and reverse synthesis starting with the desired products and identifying necessary species and pathways leading to them. In the optimization stage, Bellman's principle of optimality is applied to decompose the optimization problem into subproblems in which an optimal policy of available technologies is determined for every conversion step. An optimization formulation is utilized to determine the optimal configuration based on screening and connecting the optimal policies and generating the biorefinery flowsheet. A case study of alcohol-producing pathways from lignocellulosic biomass is solved to demonstrate the merits of the proposed approach. © 2011 American Institute of Chemical Engineers AIChE J, 2012