Sustainable supply with raw materials and energy

Press Release /

The material and energetic utilization of biomass reduces the emission of gases harmful to the climate, diversifies the raw materials supply and stabilizes it long-term. At the Fraunhofer Innovation Cluster Bioenergy in Oberhausen, Germany, industry and science as well as the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia are bundling their competencies to develop new utilization concepts for biomass. The objective is to tap optimization potentials in collection, transport, storage and process management.

Worldwide, immense amount of wet biomass containing lignocellulose are generated decentralized. The spectrum ranges from grass and green waste via harvesting residues such as rapeseed straw, processing scraps from agricultural and silvicultural production to biowastes from private households.

Today, wet biomass is utilized less intensely. The reason, on the one hand, is its high water content which results in a low calorific value (low energy density), and which makes its transport and storage more expensive. In addition, the inhomogeneity, the ash content and the bad processability of wet biomass make its utilization considerably more difficult. Quite often, biogas plants are not efficient for the conversion of the difficult to biodegrade biomass containing lignocellulose. Other utilization concepts are often not available. However, wet green biomass has huge potential since it can e.g. preferably be ideally coupled with food production in crop rotation.

The objective of the innovation cluster

Fraunhofer UMSICHT has initiated the Innovation Cluster Bioenergy with the objective to increase the available and utilizable amount of biomass. Over the course of the 4-year project duration, new conversion technologies are to be developed that tap into the potentials of stalk-like as well as wet lignocellulose-containing biomass. To reconcile the food production and biomass utilization and to not create a utilization competition is the overriding objective of the cluster. In this context, new compatible options for the energy and raw materials supply are to be created and export technologies for a growing technology world market will be provided.

Developing intermediate products

The work focuses on two fractions of biomass that are generated constantly and in large quantities. Those are stalk-like biomass that occurs on the field when harvesting as well as residual material fractions from local and regional processing, e.g. from food production. The fractions are to be converted with suitable technical processes into carbon-rich intermediate products for the raw materials and energy supply that can, where possible, be converted to final products in the existing infrastructure. However, until this vertically integrated production process can be implemented, several process steps need to be optimized.

Pre-processing of wet biomass

Untreated, wet biomass is non-storable and rots fast. Therefore, the treatment has to take place close to the harvesting. As part of the Innovation Cluster, concepts and technologies for efficient drying and fractioning of biomass are to be developed. In this step, products that can be utilized close to the field as well as products worth storing and transporting can be created. This may be dry press cake that can be used as solid raw material directly in incinerations or for thermo-chemical utilization concepts. The press juice, in return, can be separated as raw material basis for feed-stuffs production, as energy source or for chemical products.

Decentralized biomass processing

Wet biomass is generated decentralized at different locations. To date, biomass is conditioned and primarily transported to centralized processing plants if it is converted to energy sources or used for material utilization. The expenses for transport and storage are enormous. The logistics necessary from the harvesting of the biomass to the transport to central conversion plants generate up to 30 percent of the overall costs. While compaction measures applied such as crushing, baling or pelletizing are heading in the right direction, they are limited in their opportunities for reducing logistical costs and furthermore, they themselves are quite cost-intensive.

Thermo-chemical conversion on-site and in close proximity

The Innovation Cluster around Fraunhofer UMSICHT is counting on the development of processing concepts in proximity to the harvesting that convert the biomass decentralized, close to the field and semi-decentralized in small stationary local conversion plants into energy-dense and sellable interim products for the further processing in the energy and chemical industry. Such interim products are coal-like products and bio crude oil. They can be created thermo-chemically through hydrothermal carbonization or through pyrolysis.

Overriding objectives

As part of the Innovation Cluster Bioenergy, agriculture is to be provided with more efficiency and more value generation. If increasing the operating time of harvesting machines is a success and if the transport of water contained in the biomass can be avoided, then a huge potential for process cost optimization is opening up. At the same time, through efficient biomass utilization contributions towards climate protection, to resource preservation with concurrent protection of fossil resources and to employment in the plant mechanical engineering sector can be made.

In the "Pact for Research and Innovation", the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft has taken on the task of designing and implementing Innovation Clusters. An Innovation Cluster has the task to bundle the forces in the region and to motivate them for the solution of challenging tasks. With this initiative, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft is creating impetus for the further development of regional Centres of Excellence and is supporting the competencies of the regions. Innovation Clusters as an instrument are primarily intended to assist in further expanding existing strengths.

Location advantage of NRW

With its location in North Rhine-Westphalia, the Innovation Cluster "Bioenergy" is located in a region that is characterized by agriculture, the energy and the (petro)chemical industry. Several well-known companies have their headquarters or a regional presence in North Rhine-Westphalia. In addition, the dense network of universities or university institutions provides the best opportunities for access to innovative research. Through the Innovation Cluster "Bioenergy", the region can present itself as key region for the bioenergy area.

Funding note

The Fraunhofer Innovation Cluster Bioenergy is sponsored by the Ministry for Innovation, Science, Research and Technology of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia (MIWFT) with funds from the European Fund for Regional Development (EFRE).