Sunday, April 29, 2007

The potential contribution of the Portuguese forestry sector to biofuel production

Maria José Costa-Ferreira and João Matos de Sousa. Bioengineering and Bioprocessing Unit, INETI, Estrada do Paço do Lumiar, Lisbon, 1649-038, Portugal

Within the European Union, dependence on the primary source of energy averages around 40.5% whereas in the case of Portugal this value is close to 90%. In order to  lessen the economic and geo-strategic consequences of this dependence  on non-renewable energy supplies, the Portuguese government has launched  a comprehensive technological plan. It calls on innovative R&DT programmes to tackle  new challenges and to comply with a set of EU mandates that provide a long-term framework for development of a knowledge-based bioeconomy.  The forest and related industries have long been a pillar of the Portuguese economy. Lignocellulosic raw materials from these sectors are readily available within existing infrastructures. Such raw materials are clearly targeted in the development of second generation biofuels.  Unlike cellulose, lignin, which typically makes up about 15-30% of lignocellulosic materials, cannot be converted into biofuels using enzymatic oxidations as the mechanism for lignin biotransformation has so far not been elucidated. This gap in our knowledge can be overcome by using the Fischer-Tropsch process which is well suited to the exploitation of lignocellulosics and other organic materials. The technology for the conversion of gas obtained from biomass pyrolysis to liquid fuels has clearly undergone major improvements and holds a lot of promise. We describe different scenarios for the Fischer-Tropsch process wherein an estimate is given  for the amount of biofuels that can be obtained from forest products wastes as well as standing timber.

We gratefully acknowledge funding from the Portuguese Fundação Ciencia e Tecnologia for project no. POCTI/AGR/47309/2002.