Research Excellence

 

reserachexcellence

BPI has a long tradition of research excellence.  The network is actively engaged in research projects that provide innovative and sustainable solutions to local and global challenges that affect industry and society.

 

UBC is one of the world’s leading academic centres for bioeconomy research. The BPI network represents deep knowledge from the seeds of the trees to cutting-edge bio-refining technologies and novel bio-based products. There are substantial research groups focusing on the two key bio-refining conversion processes: the thermochemical and bio-conversion pathways. Further down the value chain, UBC BPI has an exceptional group of 57 researchers working on development of advanced biomaterials, ranging from specialty paper applications to fibre and fibril reinforced materials and carbon fibres from lignin. The differentiating factor of Bioeconomy Research at UBC is the high level of internal and external collaboration, with researchers and practitioners combining knowledge throughout a fully integrated ‘seeds to solutions’ bio-refining value chain.

 

thermochemical

Researchers at UBC have been developing and demonstrating advanced technologies for thermochemical conversion of biomass since the 1990s. Thermo chemical methods have their origins in the ancient process of “burning” biomass. The two main routes that are being researched are gasification and (fast) pyrolysis.

Gasification involves heating biomass using a gasification agent such as air or steam. The feedstock often needs pre-treatment (e.g. drying, grinding) before it is gasified and the product gas needs cleaning (e.g. tar removal) and conditioning (e.g. H2/CO ratio adjustment). Synthesis gas (syngas) can subsequently be upgraded to serve as an intermediate for the synthesis of fuels, chemicals or materials. UBC’s Bioenergy Research and Demonstration Facility (BRDF), for combined heat and power (CHP) generation for our campus, is one unique facility based on Nexterra’s biomass air gasification technology. At the same time, a pilot scale dual fluidized bed biomass steam gasfier has been tested at the UBC Pulp and Paper Centre for producing high quality syngas for liquid biofuels in collaboration with Highbury Biofuels.

Pyrolysis is a thermal conversion of biomass to bio-oil and bio-char in an oxygen-free environment. The bio-oil can be used for power and heat generation or can be processed further into transportation fuels or chemicals. The ongoing research at UBC explores biochar production and application, and bio-oil production and upgrading to liquid fuels, in collaboration with Fraunhofer Institute, Korean Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) and University of Tokyo.

bioconversion

The bio-conversion pathway in a bio-refinery is based on conversion of the sugar-containing polymers, celluloses and hemicelluloses to a range of products. Bio-conversion routes are well suited to produce oxygenated products such as carboxylic acids, alcohols and polyols that are important intermediates for the emerging bio-chemicals market. Pathways typically consists of three major steps including pre-treatment and fractionation to improve the accessibility of the substrate to enzymes that hydrolyze the polymers to sugars that can be subsequently fermented. Fermentation processes are traditional processes that since long have been used for industrial production of energy and chemicals. Recent development in life science has further advanced the possibility to create microorganisms for production of certain chemicals that cannot be produced efficiently by microorganisms found in nature. UBC excels in the discovery, characterisation of enzymes and microorganisms. Our ongoing cooperation with Genome BC drives groundbreaking research into genetic modification to foster efficiency of hydrolysis.

molecules-

For the many high-value, small molecules produced in nature, it has been impossible for chemists to find efficient syntheses starting with petrochemicals due to the specific stereochemistry of their complex molecular structure. In contrast, nature has evolved seemingly endless reservoirs of biosynthetic enzymes which selectively produce the correct and desired stereochemistry of industrially important molecules, e.g., Taxol, a powerful anti-cancer agent, produced by yew trees serves as prime example.

biomaterials

Research and development is underway worldwide to develop new materials that in turn help develop new products by breaking down wood pulp fibres into their elementary cellulose components. These can be categorized as lignin-based carbon fibres, nanocellulose (MFC, NCC, CF) or hemicelluloses extractives. In general, these are manufactured through a combination of chemical and mechanical treatments in which the wood chip is separated into its elementary components. The applications for these materials are becoming rapidly apparent with actual (pilot) production of these new materials coming online.