Foundation: Renewable resources

Components of biomass and their conversion

In this video, Dr Tom Farmer at the Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence, University of York outlines the major constituents within biomass available for refining, and how the composition of the biomass dictates the most suitable platform molecules to produce. 

Although initially a biorefinery may focus on a single target molecule or group of molecules e.g. a high value, low volume extract, to maximise the efficiency of crude biomass processing a useful strategy is to valorise as many of the constituents within the biomass as possible.  For example, after first removing high-value, low-volume extracts (terpenes, triglycerides, waxes, sterols, pigments, aromas etc.), the next step would be to target easily accessed or processed components (sugars, starches and hemicellulose), before recovering the protein (potentially for feed) and finally processing the recalcitrant lignocellulose.

In the following sections, four of the main constituents of biomass (saccharides, lignin, protein and extracts) will be examined in turn to look more closely at the types of molecules that can be made from them and their inherent functionalities.