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Keywords:

  • biorefinery;
  • biochemicals;
  • biomass;
  • lignin;
  • carbohydrates

Abstract

Most of the chemical products used today in our society originate from fossil sources through refinery operations. The continual price increase of fossil resources, their uncertain availability, and the environmental concerns of their exploitation have led to a demand for the elaboration of alternative chemical production patterns based on renewable sources. Besides fossils, the only resource available for producing chemicals is biomass, and the establishment of biorefinery complexes is increasingly perceived as a promising alternative to oil refineries. This work is a position paper that provides an insight in the emerging biorefinery concept, with special focus on the opportunities, perspectives, and potential regarding the use of lignocellulosic biomass as raw material in the preparation of platform chemicals needed to meet the existing demand. Results show that replacing fossil resources with wood requires large amounts of biomass and has several technological barriers that are still far from being overcome. This paper identifies the key reactions where major efficiency improvements and research efforts are needed (dehydration, fermentation, hydrogenation, etc.), as well as the possibilities when it comes to enhancing biomass conversion performances through the synthesis of new platform chemicals, with higher oxygen content, so as to accommodate the original biomass composition. © 2011 Society of Chemical Industry and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd