Fuels and plastics from lignocellulosic biomass via the furan pathway; a technical analysis†
Biorefineries convert biomass into bio-based products, which have the potential to replace typical products produced by petroleum refineries. They provide a technology platform to reduce anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, increase security of supply and reduce the dependency on crude oil. The biorefinery concept presented in this paper focuses on a combination of (1) organosolv fractionation to produce carbohydrates from lignocellulosic biomass and (2) the furan technology to convert carbohydrates into polyethylene furanoate (PEF), a bio-based alternative to polyethylene terephthalate (PET), and furfuryl ethyl ether (FEE), a bio-based transportation fuel component. The goal of this paper is to determine the mass and energy balances of the production of PEF and FEE from lignocellulosic biomass and indicate the benefits, as well as potential bottlenecks in the coupling of organosolv and furan chemistry as a biorefinery concept. Three cases are defined, modeled and analyzed, each focusing on a different approach to combine the organosolv and furan conversion technologies and determine the possibility and degree of integration. Modeling results based on experimental data and expert judgments show that wheat straw, as an example of lignocellulosic biomass, can be converted into PEF and FEE at yields between 20 and 40 w/w%, based on total input, while energetic efficiencies are between 30 and 40%. This is comparable or even better compared to other upcoming bio-based processes, e.g. 15–35% yield for second generation bio-ethanol production and 25–50% energy efficiency. The conclusion is that in each of the three cases presented bio-based fuels and plastics can be produced via the furan pathway at efficiencies that constitute a viable option from a technological point of view.