Sara González-García, Pablo Comendador Morales, Beatriz Gullón
In the food industry, the brewing sector holds a strategic economic position since beer is the most consumed alcoholic beverage in the world. Brewing process involves the production of a large amount of lignocellulosic residues such as barley straw from cereal cultivation and brewer’s spent grains. This study was aimed at developing a full-scale biorefinery system for generating bio-ethanol and xylooligosaccharides (XOS) considering the mentioned residues as feedstock. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology was used to investigate the environmental consequences of the biorefinery system paying special attention into mass and energy balances in each production section to gather representative inventory data. Biorefinery system was divided in five areas: i) reconditioning and storage, ii) autohydrolysis pretreatment, iii) XOS purification, iv) fermentation and v) bioethanol purification. LCA results identified two environmental hotspots all over the whole biorefinery chain: the production of steam required to achieve the large autohydrolysis temperature (responsible for contributions higher than 50% in categories such as acidification and global warming potential) and the production of enzymes required in the simultaneous saccharification and fermentation (> 95% of contributions to terrestrial and marine aquatic ecotoxicity potentials). Since enzymes production involves high energy intensive background processes, the most straightforward improvement challenge should be focused on the production of steam. An alternative biorefinery scenario using wood chips as fuel source to produce heating requirements instead of the conventional natural gas was environmentally evaluated reporting improvements ranging from 44% to 72% in the categories directly affected by this hotspot.
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