Recycling wastes and residues for sustainable bioenergy and biomaterials

AUTHORS: Bettina Kretschmer – Claire Smith – Emma Watkins – Ben Allen – Allan Buckwell – Jane Desbarats – Daniel Kieve

This study examines and reviews biorefinery technology options to convert biomass in the form of agricultural crop and forestry residues and waste from the whole food chain into biomaterials and bioenergy. It assesses the technological options, including the sustainability of the processes involved. 

Advanced biofuels and innovative bio-based pathways based on wastes and residues show considerable potential and should be further developed especially as Europe is already seen by some as having a lead in relevant technologies. However, there are also considerable uncertainties for investors and indeed all market participants and thus a major task is to ensure good transparency and better information concerning the availabilities of the waste and residue streams, the opportunities for processing, and the benefits to consumers. In addition, because, by definition, bio-based economic developments necessarily interact with ecosystems, there has to be visible assurance that the bio-products are indeed environmentally preferable with respect to greenhouse gas emissions, water, soil and biodiversity compared with their fossil-based counterparts. The conclusion is thus that encouragement should be given to this sector, but with enhanced transparency of all aspects of its development, and with equally strong sustainability safeguards.

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