Make Energy Great Again, via BIOmass: The DOE’s MEGA-BIO Project Expands
by Jim Lane (Biofuels Digest) … Long ago, the DOE shifted from a “biofuels and nothing else” focus to integrated biorefineries that can compete “across the whole barrel” with petroleum — recognizing that while chemicals make up a small fraction of the products that come out of a barrel of oil, they represent half the profits. Consider it this way, chemicals subsidize fuels. .
And for small biorefineries and for early-stage ventures, the path across the Valley of Death is the small-market, high-value, high-margin first product. First you make the 100K+ Tesla Model S — then you move on towards the mass-market with the $35-$60K Model 3.
Recently, the DOE’s Bioenergy technologies Office has been recognizing that — if you are depending on the biorefinery’s abiliity to make high-value bioproducts either partially or exclusively, during it’s earliest days of existence, then the mission of the DOE is in many ways wrapped up in successfully finding ways to make those bioproducts.
In ‘history of petroleum’ terms, you might think of it as assisting the industry to develop lamp oil — confident that gasoline and diesel fuel vehicle fuels would follow.
The Fourth MEGA-BIO complex
Specifically, DOE selected Michigan State University to manage the fourth project, which will work in partnership with the University of Wisconsin–Madison and MBI International.
The project aims to optimize a two-stage process for deconstruction of biomass into two clean intermediate streams: sugars for the production of hydrocarbon fuels and lignins for the production of multiple value-added chemicals.
If you could only depolymerize it. And lignin is not a pretty, homogenous polymer, a zilion repetitions of the one structure. It’s hetrogenous — there’s complexity in there.
If you’ve noticed that DOE is taking on a much more fundamental bit of science than we’ve seen in the past decade — a move away from catalyzing demonstrations and scale-up and towards more fundamental questions that might unlock industry’s scale-up purse-strings via developing breakthroughs such as the valorization of lignin — well, that’s no accident.
TRLs (Technical Readiness Levels) were set up for components, not for the integration into systems. READ MORE