Foundation: Renewable resources

Biomass as a chemical feedstock

This material taken from J. H. Clark, Green and Sustainable Chemistry: An Introduction, in Green and Sustainable Medicinal Chemistry: Methods, Tools and Strategies for the 21st Century Pharmaceutical Industry, The Royal Society of Chemistry, 2016, ch. 1, pp. 1-11.. It is copyright to the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) and is reproduced here with their express permission. If you wish to reproduce it elsewhere you must obtain similar permission from the RSC.

Large volume, low value bio-resources, collectively described as biomass, that are able to be replenished on a reasonably short time-scale, can be used as a feedstock for making chemicals, materials and fuels.  Biomass includes:

  • Forestry residues;
  • Short rotation trees;
  • Agricultural residues including straws;
  • Food processing wastes including shells, stones, peels;
  • Grasses and other land grown biomass;
  • Marine residues; 
  • Macroalgae (seaweed) and microalgae;
  • Other food wastes.

The use of waste biomass is advantageous as it avoids competition for agricultural land which might be used for food production, while simultaneously adding value to waste streams that would potentially otherwise go to landfill.  As well as functional molecules that can be extracted from biomass, it is also possible to biochemically and/or thermochemically process the bulk components of biomass to give a range of additional useful functional molecules or ’platform molecules’, such as succinic acid, lactic acid and levoglucosenone.