Wet Biomass Conversion Processes

Wet biomass is present in high volume across Europe (manure, agricultural waste and by-products). As it contains too much moisture to be converted efficiently into energy via a direct combustion process, other conversion pathways and energy outputs have been developed by the biogas (eg. anaerobic digestion) and biofuel sectors (eg. fermentation). Anaerobic digestion and fermentation are the two main conversion pathways used for converting wet biomass feedstock into advanced fuel.

Anaerobic digestion is the microbiological process of decomposition of organic matter, in the absence of oxygen, and is common to many natural environments; it is largely applied today in order to produce biogas in airproof reactor tanks, commonly referred to as digesters. A wide range of micro-organisms are involved in the anaerobic process which has two main end products: biogas and digestate. Biogas is a combustible gas consisting of methane, carbon dioxide and small amounts of other gases and trace elements. Biogas can be used in direct combustion to produce heat, but also power if converted within a cogeneration plant or in adapted gas motors. Biogas can also be upgraded via purification processes to a biomethane that can be injected into the existing natural gas networks, used as a chemical product and/or vehicle fuel. Digestate is the decomposed substrate, rich in macro- and micro-nutrients and therefore suitable for use as plant fertiliser.

Fermentation is a biochemical conversion whereby microorganisms, including yeast and bacteria, convert matter into products such as ethanol and liquid transport fuel (biodiesel). This process is done in several stages. First, sugary and starchy feedstock such as corn must be crushed and combined with water, allowing enzymes to convert this starch into sugar. This ferments along with the addition of yeast and is distilled into bioethanol. Bioethanol can also be produced from cellulosic biomass, such as grass, wood and stalks, via fermentation; however, this process is more complex and involves a mechanical pre-treatment and the addition of enzymes, or the breakdown of the lignocellulose into sugar through hydrolysis, followed by the same procedure.