Helping to reduce energy consumption in the bioeconomy

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Rehap is a European project optimising industrial processes in the development of high added-value bio-based products for the construction industry. The goal is to develop technologies for the low-energy production of materials and contribute to a range of policies that are in place to improve the energy and environmental performance of the building industry

The drive towards greater energy efficiency is not limited to the generation of heat, lighting or the creation of smarter cities. As the bioeconomy continues to make its own waves in tackling climate change by increasing  the production and utilisation of biological resources, biological process and by promoting principles of sustainability and the circular economy, a significant element of this is in creating the efficient processes needed to achieve both sustainable production and reduce energy consumption in that production.

The cross-cutting nature of the bioeconomy means that it addresses a handful of challenges such as food security, natural resource scarcity and fossil-resource dependence. Currently, the building sector accounts for 40 per cent of total energy use in the EU with arguably not enough happening to improve the energy performance in the construction industry. Rehap is an EU-funded project aiming to strengthen the bioeconomy by creating novel materials from agricultural and forestry residues. The project is looking to develop methods to convert these natural wastes into sustainable polyurethanes, bio-additives and high-performance bio-resins to be used commercially in the green building sector for foams, adhesives, wooden panels and concrete.

In the development of these new bio-based alternative materials, one of the project’s targets is to decrease the use of fossil resources and energy, and optimise alternative energy resources in the process industry. In doing so, Rehap aims to highlight the areas and possibilities available to other industries in mitigating climate change with a renewed industrial base reducing energy demand and lowering emissions. 

machine

Optimisation

The efficient use of energy is continually gaining importance and is a crucial contributor towards reducing CO2 emissions and the energy consumption in the process industry. However, with energy already being one of the largest cost factors in this sector the optimisation and subsequent improved energy efficiency of industry will benefit both the climate and lead to energy cost savings. 

“The current state most typical of industrial processes is that they are poorly optimised which is leading to unfavourable environmental and economic impacts,” explains Aitor Barrio, research scientist in the Building Technologies Division of Tecnalia and Rehap project coordinator. “However, there is a lot of potential to minimise energy consumption through the optimisation of process conditions, modifying equipment and updating techniques, and that’s what we’re trying to do in Rehap.” 

One area in which Rehap is looking to do this is by redesigning factories so that the energy they are generating can feed back to other points in the plants that need more energy. Barrio describes that with the introduction of new technologies based on state-of-the-art innovations, Rehap is able to optimise the processes to obtain targeted bioproducts, reducing the required energy for their production, and increasing the efficiency of the biomass used for the production of energy. “In the production of bioethanol, Rehap partner Biochemtex has created a technology that

“In the production of bioethanol, Rehap has created a technology that produces a residual from lignin which is burnt to produce energy for processes in the factory”

produces a residual from lignin which is burnt to produce energy for processes in the factory. To make this process even more efficient, we optimised the waste process for the retention of bioethonal and increased the transformation of the raw material to bioethanol, leaving a richer lignin residue and less water content which has more combustion power. This means less amount of waste is needed for the higher production of energy for the factory,” explains Barrio.

“We’re also hoping to propose some further technologies that monitor and control the extraction/fractionation/purification and upscaling processes to improve energy consumption levels. Rehap is investigating the use of waste side streams and temperature optimisation for energy reduction,” he adds.

A key challenge facing Rehap, however, is the complexities and heterogenous nature of the processes involved in the development of bio-materials. The project is currently managing seven different products including bio-polyesterpolyols, bio-phenolic resins, bio-fire retardants, bio- 1,4 BDO, bio-2,3 BDO, bioplasticizers and NIPUs, and developing new processes in the recovery and valorisation  of tannins and sugars from softwood barks and lignin, and sugars from straw hydrolysis residue. Rehap is following tight measures and assessments to evaluate the sustainability and energy impact of all these new processes to propose effective solutions that benefit the energy efficiency of future industry. 

Project information

rehap

Project Title:

Rehap – Systemic approach to Reduce Energy demand and CO2 emissions of processesthat transform agroforestry waste into High Added value Products.

Project Objective:

Rehap aims to strengthen the European bio-economy industry by creating novel materials from agriculture and forestry waste, and considering how they can be used commercially in the green, sustainable building sector.

Project Duration and Timing:

48 months from 01/10/2016 – 30/09/2020

Project Funding:

Overall budget: €8 224 644,99

EU contribution: €6 743 545

Project Partners:

TECNALIA (ES), VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland (FI), UNIA Augsburg (AT), RINA Consulting (IT), COLLANTI (IT), FORESA (ES), RAMPF (DE), Insight Media (UK), LAFARGE (FR), BBEPP (BE), Novamont (IT), CUSA (ES), CTXI (IT), Biosyncaucho (ES), Cartif (ES)

Upscaling processes

The unique and complex nature of each of the processes means that when it comes to upscaling it can get complicated. A significant target of the Rehap project is up-scaling the developed processes and producing adequate amounts for application in the final targeted products for commercial use: superplasticisers for concrete, BioPU monomers for PU adhesives, BioNiPus for PUR foams and bioresins for wooden panels. 

This means that the optimisation, new technologies and energy savings executed at lab scale need to be transferable to pilot and industry scale for marketable energy efficiency. However, the acquirements at pilot scale are very different to those at industrial scale, as Barrio explains.

“In the lab you have more equipment, the loads are easier to manage as is controlling the conditions and reactions of the optimised processes. At industrial scale because the equipment is different it is not so easy to manage these types of reactions and the consumption of energy is altered, too, making it hard to calculate the real reductions in industrial energy savings.”

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Future prospects

In a bid to reduce energy use in a more sustainable building industry, the new processes developed by the Rehap project will directly impact the circular economy. The energy consumed by a building throughout its life comprises of the energy consumed to create it, in refurbishing it, powering and heating it, and lastly in the disposal of the building. As more regulations are in place towards net zero carbon buildings, improvements in reducing the amount of energy in the early and later stages of a building’s life become more relevant. 

“Waste valorisation of the residuals used in the design and production of Rehap’s new products, new materials and new composites, the optimisation of the processes, and the end-of-life and disassembling of the products for use in a new material life cycle is where Rehap is constantly evaluating its energy consumption,” concludes Barrio. Across these stages the project is pushing to reduce the amount of energy used in the building industry from cradle-to-grave.”

Main Contact

Dr. Aitor Barrio

Aitor, project coordinator of Rehap, is a research scientist in the Building Technologies Division of Tecnalia, with his main expertise in the development of building Biobased materials and fire performance.

Contact:

Tel:
+34 647 405 789

Email:
Aitor.barrio@tecnalia.com

Web:

www.tecnalia.com

www.rehap.eu.com

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