Biomass as a feedstock

Definition of biomass as a feedstock:

Biomass is organic matter that comes from living organisms. It can be used as a feedstock in a variety of chemical and industrial processes, and presents fewer ecological concerns than traditional feedstocks like fossil fuels.

What is biomass as a feedstock?

Organic matter (for example, crops, waste, and algae) can be used as a sustainable feedstock for a wide range of industrial applications and energy products. It is a key tool in the ongoing transition away from fossil-based raw materials – providing a sustainable alternative to petrochemical derivatives in the production of plastics, polymers, and energy, among other essential solutions.

What are the different types of biomass?

  • Generation 1 (“food-based”) biomass includes crops such as soy, rapeseed, palm oil, sugarcane, wheat, and corn.

  • Generation 2 (“non-food”) biomass includes wood, straw, and other organic waste.

  • Generation 3 biomass refers to algae.

How is biomass created?

“Biorefinery” is the process of preparing biomass for conversion into useful raw materials. This begins with a pre-treatment stage, which usually involves opening up the organic matter’s cells to make them more receptive to treatments. This pre-treated biomass is then processed according to the type of organic matter used. Examples of processing techniques include enzymes, dehydration, electric fields, and steam treatment. The processed biomass can then be used in place of many petrochemical derivatives.

What are the benefits of biomass as a feedstock?

Using biomass avoids the use of fossil resources such as oil. This makes it a more sustainable option for producing products that are commonly created using fossil-based feedstocks, including plastics, polymers, and other chemical products. Biomass can also be used in other industrial applications, including asphalt and other construction materials, as well as composites for the automotive industry.

Biomass not only replaces fossil resources but may also help trap carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This is because the plants used to produce it remove CO2 from the atmosphere while they are alive, trapping it in their cell structures. This means that materials made from biomass have the potential to act as carbon sinks.

What are the challenges of using biomass?

Since many food crops are used to produce biomass, it is essential to balance the needs of the global food supply with the production of sustainable feedstocks. This can be achieved by prioritizing non-food (generation 2) feedstocks such as plant stalks, husks, and pulp, which would have otherwise gone to waste. A cascading principle should be applied when deciding on the end-use of crops, with the following priority order: human consumption, animal feed, materials and chemicals, and biofuels. This way, biomass can be used without posing a risk to food security. Equally, biomass should not be seen as a replacement for other environmental protection strategies such as reusing and recycling existing materials.

What is the future of biomass as a feedstock?

Expanding society’s use of biomass is high on the agenda across the globe: the US Department of Agriculture runs a funding initiative called the Biomass Crop Assistance Program to encourage farmers to grow crops for biomass. Increased biomass usage, both for energy and as a chemical feedstock, is also an essential part of the European Green Deal. Meanwhile, projects such as CHAMPION and Bio-NIPU seek to use biomass to create bio-based alternatives to polymers and polyurethanes respectively.

Stahl is increasingly introducing feedstocks derived from biomass into our product portfolio.
Find out more about Stahl’s bio-based polymer technologies or read this article on the use of biomass in the chemicals industry.