Institute of Chemical Engineering
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Head of Research focus

Univ.Prof. Dipl.-Ing. Dr.techn. Anton Friedl

Research focus Biorefinery

Head: Univ.Prof. Dipl.-Ing. Dr.techn. Anton Friedl

The topic Biorefinery is a joint research focus within the Research Division "Thermal Process Engineering & Simulation". Biorefineries are integrative, multifunctional overall concepts using biomass as raw material while producing a broad variety of sustainable intermediate and endproducts like chemicals, materials, bioenergy and biofuels. The aim of those Biorefineries has to be the complete use of the biomass. Parts of the biomass that can not be used for producing materials are utilised to supply the process or external users with energy.

 

Our research covers different types of Biorefineries (material oriented, energy oriented, differend kinds of raw materials, centralised, decentralised). The focus of our investigations lies in the fields of:

  • Lignocellulosic Biorefineries
  • Utilisation of currently unused or only energetically used raw materilas, like residues from the agricultural or wood processing industry (e.g. cereal straw, bark, sawmill wastes or wood trunks and pruning)
  • High share of conversion of the biomass to materials (chemicals, materials, …)
  • Production of Nanolignin as high value-added intermediate product
  • Decentralised Biorefinery concepts
  • Minimal impact of the Biorefinery concepts on the environment

The Research and Development activities on Biorefineries comprise all aspects of the Research Division. These include:

  • practical work in laboratory and technical room
  • simulation based work in Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD)
  • simulation based work in Process Simulation
  • Research on essential physical properties
  • economic analysis

 

CFD biomass packing in the extraction reactor
CFD results (Velocity magnitude contours)
Process simulation flowsheet of a Biorefinery concept

In many fields we also cooperate with partners within the institute, within TU Wien but also with external partners. For example on the topics:

  • Utilisation of gained sugar fracions for the biotechnological production of sugar substitutes or pharmaceuticals,
  • Material use of the cellulose fraction,
  • Utilisation of residual streams in biogas fermentation plants or
  • Assessment of our Biorefinery concepts using Life Cycle Analysis

The first stept within the practical works is the pretreatment of the biomass. For this step we mainly use an Organosolv extraction process based on a mixture of water and ethanol as solvent. These practical works are both carried out in laboratory plants as well in our new, fully automated Extraction pilot plant.

Left: Pilot plant, 10 L extractor, max. 220 °C, 30 bar, 60 L extract collection vessel, thin film evaporator (recovery of solvent and concentration of extract)
Upper right: 1 L reactor, max. 250 °C, 50 bar; Lower right: Reactor system with 5 reactors, 45 mL each, max. 300 °C, 115 bar

In the second step of the practical works the gained individual fractions are processed to products. The solid Cellulose fraction is, for instance, investigated regarding its applicability in the pulp and paper industry and the production of glucose via enzymatic hydrolysis. The gained glucose can be used as raw material for biotechnological fermentation which is conducted by project partners.

Liquid extracts with high Hemicellulose and low Lignin content are currently used as raw material for the biotechnological production of sugar substitutes (Erythritol, Xylitol) in cooperation with project partners.

If the Organosolv extraction is carried out at high pressures and temperatures, the extract contains a high fraction of Lignin. This extract is used in our patented precipitation process to produce Lignin particles in micro- and nanometer range. The precipitation process is followed by a cleaning and Lignin particle concentration step using membrane technology (ultrafiltration). Also, the concentration of the extract prior to the precipitation step using nanofiltration is investigated by us in order to optimise the overall Biorefinery process.

Precipitated Lignin in solution
Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) picture of Nanolignin

Due to the natural properties of the gained Nanolignin, like UV absorption, antioxidative and biocidal activity, as well as its chemical structure, Nanolignin can be processed into a multitude of end products. This offers many possibilities for us to cooperate with partners from Industry and Science to develop new products.

Applications of Nanolignin

If you are interested on the topics Biorefinery or Nanolignin, please contact us! We will be happy to arrange an appointment for a meeting and the visit of our plants.

 

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Contact:

Univ.Ass. Dipl.-Ing. Dr.techn. Martin Miltner

Univ.Prof. Dipl.-Ing. Dr.techn. Anton Friedl