The transformation of biomass into fuel and chemicals is becoming increasingly popular as a way to mitigate global warming and diversify energy sources. Biomass is a renewable, carbon-neutral resource, and fuels derived from biomass usually burn more cleanly than fossil fuels. It has been estimated that biomass could provide about 25% of global energy requirements. In addition, biomass can also be a source of valuable chemicals, pharmaceuticals and food additives. Several kinds of biomass can be converted to fuel and chemicals. Examples are wood and wood waste, agricultural crops, agricultural waste, litter from animal feedlots, waste from food processing operations and sludge from water treatment plants.
Various processes can be used to convert biomass to energy. The biomass can be burned, transformed into a fuel gas through partial combustion, into a biogas through fermentation, into bioalcohol through biochemical processes, into biodiesel, into a bio-oil or into a syngas from which chemicals and fuels can be synthesized. Wood combustion, bioethanol production from either sugarcane or corn, and biodiesel production from oilseeds are currently the most economically significant processes but still need significant improvements. A detailed review of the many processes that can convert biomass into fuels and chemicals shows that no individual process is without drawbacks. As a result, it is recommended that a biorefinery is the best solution to combine and integrate various processes to maximize economic and environmental benefits, while minimizing waste and pollution.
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