There are many factors influencing the current global interest in the biorefining of biomass feedstocks to produce a wide variety of extracts, fuels and chemicals. Identifying renewable sources of target molecules currently produced from fossil fuels is one of these, which will ultimately have a positive impact on climate change. Another driver is identifying potential uses for land masses, where a low GDP is affecting communities in those areas. From a UK perspective, a decline in total income generated from farming in Wales has had a detrimental impact on many communities right across the Principality.
There is a considerable body of data to argue that with effective land use and the use of a range of enzymic and chemical processing technologies, the utilisation of lignocellulosic biomass as feedstock for a biorefining industry would result in both social and economic regeneration of these rural communities.
In order to create a sustainable biorefining in Wales, alongside regeneration of the rural economy there is a requirement for expansion of the high technology skill base, in areas such as chemistry, biotechnology and engineering.
The key to developing this sustainable and economically viable biorefining industry within Wales and ultimately in the UK is based on several technical issues which need to be addressed. These include ensuring that the feedstocks can be grown on marginal land which will not therefore compete with traditional food crops, the need to create local supply chains linking regions together, but which can also feed into the rapidly expanding networks of biomass-based industrial activity in other areas of the UK, and ensuring that the existing transport infrastructure can absorb this increase in activity.
This paper will consider the options for large scale biorefining of high sugar perennial ryegrasses in Wales, as a model for producing sustainable, bulk quantities of chemicals, including biofuels.