Biomass surrounds us in all shapes and sizes, from microscopic algae to forests full of massive trees. No matter the form, biomass as a feedstock for chemical processes requires collection in some fashion to concentrate the resource prior to processing. This concentration effort can prove quite energy intensive, especially if the intention is to use the biomass as a raw material input for large-scale conventional chemical processes. Limiting collection to a local or regional level can reduce the transportation and logistics efforts required, much like farmers have been doing for decades by transporting their grain to nearby grain elevators. Using a similar model to collect biomass within a reasonable radius can create an excellent opportunity for deploying modular and intensified processes.
However, this opportunity is not without challenges. In a previous column, solids handling, careful scaling of new unit operations, and feedstock agnostic process design were identified as key challenges facing the conversion of low-value wastes to sustainable products (1). Biomass feedstocks, whether waste streams or not, face the same processing challenges. An additional challenge is the high moisture content of the feedstock — depending on the desired product and process, the amount of water present may be a boon or a barrier to efficient process operation. This article explores some examples of intensified processes in both water-based and dry...
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