A team of bioengineers and economists at the University of Leuven in Belgium has discovered that oil can be replaced by wood in the chemical industry. They drew a roadmap not only with the technological requirements, but also considering the economic feasibility of this strategy.
Although this resource is currently more expensive, there are techniques that allow it to be used in the production of various products. In addition to being able to derive the chemical raw materials needed for production, it is completely profitable, according to research results.
The analysis indicated that it would be financially viable to build and maintain a biorefinery that uses wood in its chemical production processes. According to the professor and coordinator of the team, Bert Sels, this resource could be extracted in a sustainable way with proper planning and management. “Furthermore, as a result of the shrinking paper industry, there is currently a surplus of this resource in Europe,” said the coordinator.
The analysis found that this new option would generate less CO2 emissions and the derived products would still be able to store carbon in their compositions — just as trees do. Thus, this resource has a much lower environmental cost than oil.
“It would be possible to store carbon from CO2 in plastics — preferably recyclable,” explains Sels. After obtaining the necessary information, the team built a bioreactor to extract the chemical compounds from the wood, which were divided into a solid paper pulp and a liquid lignin oil.
While solid pulp can generate second generation biofuels and natural insulators, lignin oil can be processed to derive basic chemical compounds such as phenol, propylene and components for paint production. Furthermore, alternative compounds for plastics can also be derived from lignin. The team is now expanding the creation of bioreactors with the aim of installing a biorefinery in Belgium.