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Speaker Abstract

Biorefineries of the Past, Present, and Future

Charles Abbas, Ph.D. ¹ ²
Director of Yeast and Renewables Research
¹Archer Daniels Midland Company
²Adjunct Departments of Food Science and Human Nutrition (FSHN) & Department of Animal Sciences (AS); Affiliate Institute for Genomics Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

In the early 1990’s I advanced the concept of “biorefinery” to illustrate the processing of commodity crops such as corn and soybeans into high value added products. Since then, the term has evolved to encompass a wide range of renewable plant-derived feedstocks which include lignocellulosics or woody biomass materials from crop residues, soft and hardwoods as well as energy dedicated crops consisting primarily of perennial grasses. Currently, biorefineries can be classified on the basis of the crop or plant source and/or by the desired primary end products or their derivatives/degradation end products such as a sugar, starch, cellulose, hemicellulose, lipid, lignin, furfural, hydroxymethyl furfural, phenolics or levulinic acid refinery. A yeast biorefinery is another example of how the term has gained greater widespread use beyond the original narrowly defined refining of plant-derived feedstock to products that can be derived from yeast cell mass or manufactured through the use of yeasts as biocatalysts. In a similar fashion the biorefinery term can be applied and extended to other biocatalysts such as whole cell algae or enzyme-based refineries.

The advanced biorefineries envisioned today incorporate the use of a much greater fraction of the plant biomass by taking previously discarded streams and upgrading them to useful products or for use in power generation. The technological, ecological and economic benefits that can be derived from biorefineries through the application of holistic bioprocessing and green chemistry with the reduced reliance on fossil fuels and recapturing of waste streams through the application of novel technologies are becoming of increased interest to the business, environmental and political establishments globally. The issue of long term sustainability of biorefineries has resulted in greater use of life cycle analysis (LCA) models that go beyond mere refining at processing facilities into plant cropping and product and byproduct production and uses as well as local economic development, wild life habitat impact, water management and energy uses with focus on green house gas mitigation. This illustrates the need for greater multidisciplinary approaches to research and education at our public universities that draws on a wide range of expertise from a diverse group of scientists and engineers using a variety of tools that go beyond a narrow field of specialization. Knowledge integration and the opportunities for campus wide partnerships provide unique challenges for what promises to be exciting days ahead.


Emerging biorefinery opportunities”. C. Abbas and M. Cheryan. Applied Biochemistry and Biotechnology (2002) Vols. 98-100:1147.

Industrial symbiosis: refining the biorefinery”. Journal of Industrial Ecology (2003) 7: 3-4. M. Realff and C. Abbas.

“Lignocellulosics to ethanol: meeting ethanol demand in the future ”. The AlcoholTextbook, 4 th Edition. (K.A. Jacques, T.P. Lyons and D.R. Kelsall, eds). Nottingham University Press, Nottingham, UK, 2003, pp.41-57. C. Abbas.

Emerging biorefineries and biotechnological applications of nonconventional yeast: now and in the future”. The Alcohol Textbook, 4 th Edition. (K.A. Jacques, T.P. Lyons and D.R. Kelsall, eds). Nottingham University Press, Nottingham, United Kingdom, 2003, pp. 171-191. C. Abbas.

Production of antioxidants, aromas, colours, flavours, and vitamins by yeast ”. The Yeast Handbook. ( A. Querol and G. Fleet, eds.). Springer-Verlag, Heidelberg, Germany, 2006, pp.285-334. C. Abbas.