ETIP Bioenergy: latest developments surrounding biofuel production

The European Technology and Innovation Platform (ETIP) published their Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda 2023.

Read the full document here.

With this document, the ETIP aims to identify important activities surrounding biofuels production, innovation, and research in order to achieve the full market potential of their value chains. It outlines the current status of biogenic energy production, and the key challenges for furthering bioenergy deployment. Some of these challenges are: mobilising unused biogenic resources, converting low-quality resources (i.e. organic residual materials) into high-quality energy carriers, improving conversion efficiencies, reducing costs, and de-risking value chains.

In order to achieve long-term and large-scale deployment of advanced biomass technologies, it is imperative that we establish a reliable year-round supply of biomass feedstock. This means improving productivity and resource efficiency, developing efficient low-cost harvesting and logistics, and broadening the feedstock base. The ETIP provides suggestions for how these elements could be improved. For example, better integration of biomass value chains with other value chains, investing in high-density bio-commodities that can be produced at a local scale and enable efficient long-distance transport, improvements in data availability and digital infrastructures to characterise biomass residues and waste streams.

The ETIP also provides an overview of different conversion technologies, describes their latest technological developments, the key challenges they are facing in terms of upscaling and further development, and a rundown of their various strengths and weaknesses. Some of their insights are as follows: liquid transport fuels from gasification have a high feedstock flexibility, but suffer from investment challenges since they require large capacities to be economically attractive. Power and heat generation via gasification is a commercially proven conversion method, but requires complicated pre-treatment of feedstocks to remove contaminating elements. Pyrolytic and thermolytic processes can adapt to a wide range of feedstocks (e.g. sewage sludge and other waste streams) but require extensive upgrading in order to turn crude oils into biofuels. Then there are intermediate bioenergy carriers such as pellets and biochar, which can be used to turn low energy density feedstocks into a means of heat and power production, but the licensing of new facilities is complex and often takes long. Fermentation methods require milder reaction conditions than other conversion routes, but can be easily hindered by feedstock inhomogeneity. Lastly, the ETIP describes anaerobic digestion as a very robust and adaptable technology, although requiring feedstocks that are not always available year-round in adequate, economically feasible quantities.

Each conversion route thus has its own set of challenges, some of which overlap and can be improved by overarching solutions (an important step would be clear and consistent sustainability criteria). Mapping out these challenges and the current state of different conversion technologies is an important undertaking towards developing the biogenic value chains necessary for the replacement of fossil fuels.