Examples of fuels produced from biomass are biomethane, renewable natural gas (RNG), biogenic hydrogen, biokerosene, biomethanol, bioethanol and higher alcohols. However, in future, care must be taken to avoid the well-documented conflict between crops used for food and those used for fuel production. The bioeconomy strategy therefore calls for only using the biomass that cannot be used for producing food. Microalgae, biowaste and residual materials have huge potential in this area.
In cooperation with the research unit of the German Technical and Scientific Association for Gas and Water (DVGW), KIT researchers have successfully built a pilot plant in which biogas produced by fermenting residual organic materials can be upgraded to synthetic methane (synthetic SNG). Biobased methane is not only a sustainable energy source for the heating and transport sectors, but also opens up new opportunities for temporary storage of renewable energies.
Biomass can be carbonised and converted into certified carbon using a technology called “carbotwin”, which enables simultaneous production of energy. The carbon produced can be used as a starting material in various industries (packaging, agriculture, cosmetics, etc.). The carbon is thus stored in the end products and does not enter the atmosphere as CO2, which is what usually happens during combustion. Carbonauten, a start-up company from the Baden-Württemberg town of Giengen, shows that the process is not only environmentally friendly, but also economically viable.
Funding renewable energies is one of the EU’s key objectives. Biomass such as algae and organic waste are particularly promising because they are not in competition with food production. Scientists at the Fraunhofer IGB in Stuttgart ferment biomass from wholesale market waste and algae. They use a cascade process to obtain valuable materials and the biogas methane. Their aim is to close material cycles and achieve high efficiency and flexibility for many source materials.
The lack of flexibility with regard to peak demand for electricity – both for consumers and producers – is a well-known problem as far as the production of electricity from renewable resources is concerned. Biogas plants present a particular challenge due to the complex and relatively slow microbial processes involved. A research project called FLEXIZUCKER at the Universities of Ulm and Göttingen aims to make biogas production more flexible and hence the supply of renewable electricity more grid- and market compatible.
Natural gas is a more climate friendly fuel than raw materials such as coal and petroleum. Nevertheless it is also a fossil fuel that generates anthropogenic CO2 emissions. In a collaborative project at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, scientists and engineers are concentrating on finding out how biogenic residues and waste materials such as wood, sewage sludge and biomass mixtures can be turned into alternative gaseous fuels. The innovative approach involves using carbon from different types of biomass as completely and efficiently as possible. In addition, the heat generated by converting the biomass into methane will be integrated into biomass gasification and electrolysis processes. The hydrogen thus generated can then be used for producing methane while oxygen serves as gasification agent. The goal is to make the overall process highly efficient.
The use of wood and other renewable raw materials for the production of industrial goods presents opportunities and risks. Is the shift from petroleum to wood possible and how can such a shift be best achieved? A research project at the University of Freiburg combines forestry know-how with political science methodology in order to sound out the bioeconomy.
Novel biomass materials suitable for various applications need to be developed in order to establish a biobased raw material platform within the bioeconomy. These biobased materials must be able to compete with conventional fossil fuel-based materials, both from a technological and economic point of view. Researchers at the University of Hohenheim are working on the development of conductive carbon materials from biomass with the long-term goal of making the substitution of fossil electrode materials in high-capacitance energy storage systems ready for market.
One billion people worldwide rely on forests as living spaces. Illegal and legal deforestation endangers people’s livelihoods as well as social and economic structures. It also has a detrimental effect on the global climate. Prof. Dr. Daniela Kleinschmit, Professor for Forest and Environmental Policy at the University of Freiburg, discusses the causes and consequences of deforestation. She is co-editor of an international report on illegal logging and timber trading which was written on the initiative of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO).