17 Advantages and Disadvantages of Biorefineries
Advantages and disadvantages of biorefineries are; feedstock versatility, sustainability, resource conservation, environment-friendly, catalytic conversion, energy security, economic viability, waste management, and future prospects (advantages); complexity, interference, high recovery cost, slow conversion, technical limitations, low adoption, inability to process lignin, possible fossil fuel use, and deforestation (disadvantages).
They are discussed in this article as follows;
-Disadvantages of Biorefineries
Advantages of Biorefineries
Advantages of biorefineries are; feedstock versatility, sustainability, resource conservation, environment-friendly, catalytic conversion, energy security, economic viability, waste management, and future prospects.
1). Feedstock Versatility as one of the Advantages of Biorefineries
Unlike petroleum refineries that can work only with crude oil and natural gas, biorefineries have a brad range of types and sources of raw materials with which they can work.
This implies that there is a fair degree of versatility of biomass feedstock types that can be converted and refined in a biorefinery .
Biorefinery feedstock can be gotten from any of multiple sources, including agricultural biomass, municipal waste, and industrial waste. Examples of these feedstock materials include sugar beet, straw, maize, wheat, seaweeds, algae, stover, cassava, food waste, sewage, papers, cardboard, and wood.
The advantage of having multiple feedstock sources is that the biorefinery has multiple options of raw materials to choose from. This suggests that the use of biorefineries and the supply of products of biomass conversion may be reliable.
It is however recommendable to use the same or similar type of biomass feedstock in a biorefinery, as this ensures that the conversion process is stable and the feedstock is homogeneous. This means that while the versatile nature of biomass sources is an advantage, high variability of feedstock can be a disadvantage .
The three criteria that define sustainability and sustainable development are economic profitability, environmental safety, and social acceptability .
These three criteria are fairly met by biorefineries. The recycling and conversion of biomass to any of various fuels and chemical products is an economically profitable practice, as it makes use of waste materials and transforms them to useful products.
Biorefinery operations are also believed to good for the environment, and project a generally positive image to the public.
Meeting these three criteria means that biorefineries are sustainable.
Although there have been doubts regarding the sources of feedstock for biorefineries, as a result of issues like world hunger and food insecurity that have placed high demands on the agricultural sector, the ability to use organic matter from waste and other sources, reduces such doubts.
Biorefineries provide an option to optimize food and agricultural resources by minimizing wastage, recycling these resources to produce useful materials, while conserving the environment. As a result, the operation of biorefineries is one of the important options for establishment of a sustainable global bio-economy .
3). Resource Conservation
The operation of biorefineries can conserve natural resources in different ways.
When integrated with agriculture, biorefineries are useful for soil conservation, by improving soil organic carbon (SOC), and producing bio-based materials like digestate and biochar which can be used as soil amendment .
Biorefinery operations also conserve air quality, by controlling unwanted biodegradation of organic matter in landfills and other sources, through the diversion of these organic materials for treatment and conversion. As a result, greenhouse gas emissions are mitigated.
Fuel conservation can be achieved using biorefineries. This maybe in the area of non-renewable fossil fuels, which are conserved when biomass is used to produce biofuels; a source of renewable energy .
Other resources like water, catalysts and enzymes can be recycled in an integrated biorefinery, thereby conserving such resources.
4). Environment-Friendly Operation
The term; “green biorefinery” is often used to describe the environment-friendly nature of biorefinery operations.
One of the reasons for this is the fact that biomass feedstock is carbon-neutral . As a result, when it is converted to biofuel and used to produce heat and generate electricity, there are no net carbon emissions.
Toxin production is also minimal in biorefineries compared to other refining technologies. This is because the products of breakdown of plant and animal biomass are not as complex or rich in toxic elements, as the products of hydrocarbon breakdown, among others.
Also, the use of biorefineries to manage organic waste is an aspect of environmental remediation and protection in various parts of the world . This is because biorefineries provide an organic and sustainable means of mitigating environmental degradation, that is ecologically safe and compatible with natural processes of the ecosystem.
Lastly, the concept of biorefinery operation bears links to other environment-friendly concepts like composting, sustainable farming, biodegradable plastics manufacturing, recycling, waste management, energy conservation and energy efficiency.
5). Catalytic Conversion
Several biomass conversion reactions can be enhanced and controlled using catalysts. This approach is referred to as catalysis, or catalytic biomass conversion .
Catalytic biomass conversion has the advantage of reducing the time, energy, labor and cost of operating a biorefinery. By adding catalysts to the reaction stream, the effectiveness, efficiency and conservativeness of biomass conversion are all optimized.
Catalysts can be used in gasification and pyrolysis of biomass, as well as in steam-reforming to produce synthesis gas and other useful biofuels .
6). Energy Security
Biorefineries improve energy security in a variety of ways.
Energy recovery or waste-to-energy conversion is one of the ways in which this is achieved.
In sustainable waste management, the use of waste to produce energy and other useful commodities is a profitable and healthy practice. Biorefineries make it possible to convert organic waste into both energy and useful materials for agricultural and industrial purposes .
Through biorefinery operations, the use of biomass as a source of renewable energy to be used in generating heat and electricity is optimized  by extending biofuel application beyond the burning of firewood. As a result, bioenergy can be considered to have equal potential as other fossil fuel alternatives like solar energy, wind turbine technologies, geothermal and wave energy.
Some studies have suggested that biorefineries are often affected by low energy recovery and risk of environmental degradation through toxin releases .
7). Economic Viability
Biorefinery development is one of the steps toward achieving a bio-based, renewable and sustainable economy.
The most obvious way by which biorefineries can contribute to economic development is by reducing the dependence in fossil fuels for energy.
Although there have been debates with respect to the possibility of completely replacing fossil fuels with biofuels, it has already been demonstrated that some of these biofuels can take the place of fossil fuels in automobile operation, heat and cogeneration among other applications.
The production of liquid hydrogen using hydrogen from organic matter  has also shown that biorefineries and biomass conversion are potentially relevant across a broad spectrum that includes hybrid vehicles, hydrogen fuel cells, and space technology.
Some studies have concluded that large-scale integrated biorefineries have a generally-high economic performance .
Compared to fossil fuels, the raw materials required by biorefineries are renewable, sustainable and inexpensive to obtain.
Also, because they produce zero net carbon emissions, the cost of carbon tax and other levies is significantly lower for biorefineries. The cost of environmental remediation is also reduced since biorefinery technology is an aspect of bioremediation.
These cost-cuts help to make the entire biorefinery operation process to be relatively inexpensive. At the same time, biomass conversion methods are less expensive than the methods and procedures used to refine petroleum.
Lastly, biorefinery operations are economically viable and profitable because they can be carried out in any geographic area of the world where organic matter can be found. This reduces the cost of logistics and geographic planning in bio-refining projects.
8). Waste Management
The operation of biorefineries is an effective option for waste management.
Biorefineries that are designated specifically for waste management are called waste biorefineries.
Globally, the interest in waste biorefineries as a sustainable solution to organic waste has increased in recent years .
These waste biorefineries meet the major criteria of waste management, which include recycling and reuse of waste . They convert biogenic waste into usable products that have economic, agricultural and industrial value.
At the same time, biorefineries protect the environment from negative impacts of open biodegradation by treating waste and mitigating release of greenhouse gases and toxins.
9). Future Prospects
Another example of the advantages of biorefineries is the huge potential which bio-based technologies have, in the future.
These bio-based technologies include all forms of eco-friendly technologies that directly utilize renewable organic matter. Biodegradable plastics, renewable packaging, and biofuel systems are all aspects or sectors of bio-based technology.
Biorefinery technology is a basic and unifying sector for future developments. This is because, as the global society draws toward sustainable development in agriculture, bioenergy, smart house technology, and manufacturing, it is essential to manage all types of waste effectively.
Biorefineries are important both for energy production, material conservation, environmental protection and waste management in the future.
With more evidence pointing to the problems that come from using fossil fuels, efforts and speculations have been made with respect to how petroleum products can be replaced by bio-based products in various sectors .
The operation of biorefineries can also be useful in ecologic management, to ensure that industrial practices do not disrupt the natural procession of the energy pyramid and the geochemical cycles.
Improvements in carbon capture technology, materials processing, energy management systems and general engineering, mean that biorefineries can be further optimized to perform better.
Lastly, biorefinery technology is an aspect of future plans to reduce greenhouse emissions and environmental pollution. The fact that this technology is still in its developmental stage suggests that there are significant potentials in the future.
Disadvantages of Biorefineries
Disadvantages of biorefineries are; complexity, interference, high recovery cost, slow conversion, technical limitations, low adoption, inability to process lignin, possible fossil fuel use, and deforestation.
1). Complexity as one of the Disadvantages of Biorefineries
The operation of a biorefinery is fairly complex.
This is because many of the known biomass conversion methods involve reactions that are complex and require catalysts and other external influences to proceed in the desired direction.
The nature of biomass feedstock can also contribute to the complexity of the process. Organic materials with complex chemical compositions and products can be difficult to effectively convert.
During the conversion process, some byproducts can be circulated back into the reaction stream, and may interfere with the process.
Such problems as these are all caused by the fact that a biorefinery integrates various functions  like biomass conversion, pretreatment, post-treatment, refining, catalysis, and product recovery.
2). High Recovery Cost as one of the Disadvantages of Biorefineries
The cost of biomass conversion is relatively low. However, the final isolation, extraction and recovery of end-products is fairly expensive.
The reasons for this include technical limitations, which make the extraction process complex.
Also, the interference of byproducts further complicates the process of product recovery, and increases cost. Enzymes and catalytic reagents used to facilitate the recovery process imply additional expenses.
As a result, the final products such as biofuels are often expensive and may not be an economic alternative to fossil fuels and other non-renewable options .
3). Slow Conversion Rates
Many biomass conversion processes proceed slowly. This is a disadvantage for various reasons.
As a result of slow conversion rates, the retention time of organic feedstock in the reactor system of the biorefinery is increased significantly. This increases the risk of problems like contamination of the reaction stream, unwanted biodegradation, and unpleasant odor.
Also, the time spent on conversion will result in increased cost of energy and labor.
Low efficiency and productivity are other problems that are commonly associated with slow industrial processes, because they suggest that the methods being used may not be effective.
Although catalysis (the use of catalysts to influence and improve reaction rate) is practiced in biorefineries, this is associated with other problems of chemical interference and extra cost.
4). Inability to Process Lignin
A major disadvantage of biorefineries is their inability to process lignin, either effectively, or at all.
This s a major problem because lignin occurs in many types of plant biomass which are used as feedstock for biofuel and bioenergy production.
The removal of lignin usually requires extra methods and materials, and can be costly .
5). Technical Challenges as Disadvantages of Biorefineries
Because biorefinery technology is still undergoing its development, there are various technical challenges associated with it.
These challenges occur throughout the biorefinery process, commencing from the point of waste sorting and organic matter collection to transport, conversion, isolation and recovery.
Biorefineries that specialize in lignocellulosic (lignin-bearing) feedstock, also encounter significant technical challenges  due to the biochemical complexity of conversion.
6). Low Adoption Rate
Biorefineries have been adopted at a relatively low rate in the past decades.
Some factors which could be used to explain this include the technical challenges and slow conversion rates associated with many biorefineries. Catalysis and the need for consistent and abundant supply of organic feedstock are other problems.
The low adoption rate is a major disadvantages because it slows the rate of advancement and diversification of biorefinery technology, as well the amount of available information regarding the use of this technology and its performance under various conditions.
7). Possible Fossil Fuel Use as one of the Disadvantages of Biorefineries
Biorefineries have been developed to produce renewable energy from organic materials. However, several of these facilities operate using energy from fossil fuels.
The use of fossil fuels to operate biorefineries is caused by the fact that these fuels have a higher energy density than biofuels  and several other types of renewable energy.
In other cases, nuclear energy is used to supply power to parts of an integrated biorefinery . This is still a problem because nuclear energy is non-renewable and poses some environmental risks.
Using non-renewable sources of energy to operate a biorefinery, is a contradiction of the effort to produce renewable energy through a sustainable process. It also reduces the environmental, social and economic appeal of biorefinery technology.
8). Deforestation and Environmental Impacts
Some studies suggest that the need for consistent supply of biomass feedstock for biorefineries can heighten the rate of deforestation .
Such a problem is most likely to arise in areas where there is insufficient supply of organic waste, as well as where there is very high demand for bioenergy. An increase in deforestation rates can contribute to environmental problems like global warming and climate change.
Advantages and disadvantages of biorefineries are as follows;
Advantages of biorefineries;
- Feedstock Versatility
- Resource Conservation
- Environment-Friendly Operation
- Catalytic Conversion
- Energy Security
- Economic Viability
- Waste Management
- Future Prospects
Disadvantages of biorefineries;
- High Recovery Cost
- Slow Conversion Rates
- Inability to Process Lignin
- Technical Challenges as Disadvantages of Biorefineries
- Low Adoption Rate
- Possible Fossil Fuel Use
- Deforestation and Environmental Impacts
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