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Small-scale processing of biomass for biorefinery



The current fossil-based economy is moving towards a more bio-based economy. To enable this transition, many different processes for biorefinery are being developed. Small-scale biorefinery processes can be beneficial, not only socially and ecologically, but also economically. The main motivation for small-scale biorefinery is local re-use of materials, like water, minerals, organic matter, CO2, and heat. This minimizes costs for recycling and transport. A smart and integrated process design can beat the advantages of economy of scale applied in large-scale processes. Examples of two fully operational small-scale systems that produce ethanol and starch are given to illustrate our theory. Specific design rules for small-scale biorefineries are defined. The focus in design for small-scale processes should be on minimizing capital costs. Moreover, it is shown that separation of relatively simple pre-processing at small decentralized and more capital-intensive processing at large centralized factories, respectively, is advantageous. Integration with a biogas and combined heat and power (CHP) unit will furthermore allow usage of residual material to produce energy needed in the rest of the process. © 2012 Society of Chemical Industry and John Wiley & Sons Ltd