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Bioenergy and Biorefining


This module will introduce students to the fast moving field of biofuel research. This research relies on the development of new technologies arising from the integration of multiple disciplines. These new technologies have the potential for rapid industrial take up as well as being of public interest.

The Bioenergy and Biorefining module provides an understanding of new biofuel technologies and the importance of sustainability in feedstock production, process technologies and energy use. The module will also introduce the importance of government polices which aim to ensure security of fuel supplies and reduce carbon emissions on the creation of sustainable markets .


On completion of this module participants will be able to:

  • Evaluate critically the key issues and challenges facing the development of biofuels and biorefining.
  • Demonstrate awareness of emerging technologies impacting in this field.
  • Analyse the strengths and weaknesses of different technologies and their likely impact.
  • Appreciate the complexities underlying the current debate surrounding alternative use of biomass.


  • Introduction. Initial analysis of impact of differing land uses, sustainability of different biofuels in light of carbon emissions and agricultural practices, current policies and their influence on public perception.
  • 1st generation biodiesel - cleanliness, emissions and conflict with food oil demands, availability of different feedstocks, impact of differing oil content and potential uses. 2nd generation Biodiesels – pryolitic conversion, microbiological uses and alternatives.
  • 1st generation bio ethanol from sugar cane, sugar beet and wheat including economics, impact of price and sustainability. Cellulosic ethanol.
  • Biofuels or sustainable energy?
  • Sustainability of supplies – soil health, resource efficiency, environmental impact.
  • Natural product isolation and purification. Can plants be used as biorefineries? What chemical feedstocks can be obtained and harvested?
  • The paper mill as a biorefinery? Paper mills have evolved to be highly efficient plants both for recycling resources and for finding new uses for what was considered waste.
  • Methanol – an alternative fuel or a chemical feedstock. There is a rising interest in the potential of methanol as a transport fuel. It also has possibilities to be used in chemical production through modification pathways.
  • Biogas and fuel cells. Anaerobic digestion is starting to play a significant role in a number of countries. It has huge potential and could be used for electricity or heating. The combination of such plants with fuel cell technologies could be extremely powerful. The hydrogen economy is also being considered and biomass can be used in its production.
  • Alternative technologies for lignin breakdown. Fungal and microbial communities have the capabilities to break down lignin. There is a massive investment worldwide into developing the most effective way to release the value tied up in this until now intractable fraction of the plant.
  • Alternative materials from sustainable feedstocks.
  • Impact of public perception on demands and markets.