The research focus, Circular Bioeconomy and Biorefineries (CBB), aims to develop sustainable processes and technologies and to explore their impacts at a process and systemic level. We focus on two thematic units within this research focus: Biorefineries and Systems Integration.

In the topic Biorefineries, we develop net-zero and sustainable biorefinery concepts for the complete valorization of residual lignocellulosic biomass, focusing mainly on chemicals and materials. In the topic System Integration, we explore the potential long-term impacts (positive and negative) caused by the scale-up, demonstration, market introduction, diffusion of, and interaction between sustainable technologies. 

Biorefineries

Biorefineries are integrative, multifunctional concepts using biomass as raw material while producing various sustainable intermediate and end-products (lignin powder and particles, biocomposites, sugar substitutes, pharmaceuticals, etc.). We develop net-zero and sustainable biorefinery concepts for the complete valorization of residual lignocellulosic biomass, focusing mainly on chemicals and materials.   

Our main focuses are:

  • Product-driven biorefineries: Production of chemicals and materials as intermediate- and end-products. Unused streams are used for biogas production. 

  • Complete use of biomass fractions: Valorization of all lignocellulosic fractions, i.e., cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin, and extractives. 

  • Net-zero biorefineries: Energy self-sufficiency and defossilization through feedstock usage for energy supply. 

Experimental Infrastructure

We count with different setups to perform hydrothermal processing in autoclave reactors up to 220°C and 30 bar. At these conditions, solvents have improved mass transfer properties, which enhance the extraction and hydrolysis of lignocellulosic components. 

  • Lab-scale reactor systems: Zirbus HAD 1 L and Parr 3.7 L reactors, max. 250 °C, 50 bar, capacity for ca. 50 g and 150 g of solid feedstock. 

  • Pilot-plant reactor system: 10 L extractor, max. 220 °C, 30 bar, 60 L extract collection tank, and ca. 1 kg of solid feedstock; thin-film evaporator for solvent recovery and extract concentration. 

  • Feedstock characterization: We count with equipment to characterize structural carbohydrates, Klason lignin, extractives, and ashes of lignocellulosic biomass.  

  • Product characterization: We have established analytical methods for extractive qualitative characterization (GC-MS), sugars and their degradation products (HPAEC and UHPLC), molecular weight distribution, antioxidant potential, hydrodynamic diameter, and different microscopy methods (light and scanning-electron). 

[Translate to English:] Showing three different types of bioreactors (1 Liter, 3.7 Liter and 10 Liter)

Sustainability Assessment: 

Our main strategy is to combine experimental and simulation work early in the design phase to optimize the design of future biorefineries. This work is closely related to our FB2 Research Focus: Process Simulation. In this way, biorefinery concepts are developed that apply to the current socio-economic-political reality and serve as a guide for decision-makers in developing economic and political frameworks, as well as promoting biorefineries as an industrial perspective for the transition to a circular bioeconomy. 

 

The development of sustainable biorefinery concepts is accompanied by:  

  • Process simulation. 

  • Energy optimization (pinch analysis, heat integration, exergy analysis). 

  • Techno-economic and lifecycle assessment 

  • Prospective, attributional, and consequential approaches.  

For further information, Sebastian Serna-Loaiza (contact information, opens an external URL in a new window) can be addressed.

Systems Integration

The research focus on System Integration (SI) explores potential long-term impacts (positive and negative) caused by the scale-up, demonstration, market introduction, diffusion of, and interaction between sustainable technologies. 

Different types of resources must be continuously extracted, generated, processed, converted, traded, stored, deployed, wasted, recycled, and recovered to meet humanity’s energy, material, and food requirements. 

[Translate to English:] Picture with different words representing the different targets when considering system integration

What are the risks and opportunities of coupled resource networks? How can we guide technologies, markets, and policies to amplify the beneficial consequences of coupled networks, and mitigate potential detrimental ones?  

 

We address these and derived research questions via 

  • Fundamental research 

  • Inter- & trans-disciplinary engagement 

  • System modelling, quantitative & qualitative future studies 

  • Policy support & consultancy 

 

Our system change research is subject to international, and national research projects, R&D innovation and policy consultations, master- and PhD topics, and in broad professional networks within the TU Wien, between Austrian research institutions, and internationally.  For further information, Fabian Schipfer (contact information, opens an external URL in a new window) can be addressed.

 

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