Chemical products, energy sources, oils, paints, and more from biomass as a raw material many more things than might be thought can be obtained. Aware of this, engineer Mara Gonzlez looked for the most appropriate types of biomass as well as the most suitable processing techniques and technologies for refining them. Her aim was to obtain the most from renewable organic natural resources and thus substitute them for fossil fuels in the future. The PhD thesis was defended at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) and entitled, Design of bio-refinery processes.
Lignocellulose as raw material
The system for the transformation of the raw material depends on the type of material required to be processed. Thus, Ms Gonzlez first of all decided which type of biomass she would use, opting for lignocellulosic biomass, given its great abundance, variety and availability as well as the low cost of this group of raw materials. This material is composed of hemicellulose, lignin and cellulose, and is the raw material of the paper and pulp industry, amongst others.
The researcher did not make use of all the lignocellulosic materials; she stated that the most useful biomass is that from agricultural, forestry and food industry waste, the very waste that is problematic for the environment and the economy. So making better or full use of them would be highly advantageous.
Organosolv, the best for the first stage of refining
After deciding on the raw material, Ms Gonzlez started the first phase of bio-refinery, undertaking trials using organosolv treatments and caustic soda. Both differ as regards treatment used in the paper industry to obtain cellulose and to overcome certain drawbacks, for example as regards contamination arising from the emissions of liquids and gases.
According to the conclusions of Ms Gonzlez, the organosolv method is the most suitable of the two tested. It recovers the components of biom
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