• Biobased Chemicals
    from Biomass
    Bioprocess Development

Biobased Chemicals - Background

Rationale for Biobased Chemicals Production

The production of chemicals from biomass, also known as bio-based chemicals, plays a critical role in creating a sustainable and environmentally friendly future, particularly as the world strives to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. Some of the advantages of biobased chemicals are listed below:
  • Climate Change Mitigation - Unlike fossil fuels, bio-based chemicals are made from plant materials that recently absorbed carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
  • Security of Supply - Fossil fuel supply often is reliant on geopolitically unstable regions. Developing domestic sources of biomass and the infrastructure to convert such feedstocks to chemicals, can help improve national chemicals security.
  • Sustainable Development - Biomass can often be produced and processed locally, promoting rural development and creating jobs in agriculture, industry, and research.
  • Waste Management - Biomass for bio-based chemicals can come from waste residues from agriculture, forestry, or even municipal waste. Using these waste streams for biobased chemicals can help solve waste disposal problems.
  • Biodegradability - Many bio-based chemicals and the products made from them are biodegradable, avoiding environmental pollution associated with many fossil-derived resources.
  • Resource Efficiency - The use of biomass as a raw material can contribute to a more circular economy, where waste from one process becomes the feedstock for another. This approach increases resource efficiency and reduces environmental impact compared to linear models of production.

Approaches for the Production of Biobased Chemicals

There are two main ways in which biobased chemicals can be obtained from biomass feedstocks:

  1. Direct Extraction from Biomass - In this approach the target chemicals already exist within the feedstock. Hence, the focus of the bioprocess is on the extraction of the target chemical and then on subsequent separation and purification steps. CBD (cannabidiol), an alkaloid obtained from extracts of the hemp (cannabis) plant, is one example, among thousands, of a biobased chemical obtained this way.
  2. Production from Biomass or Biomass-Derived Compounds - Here the biobased chemical does not exist natively in the feedstock but is produced from it. This conversion can involve chemical, thermal, catalytic, and biological approaches or a combination of these. It is usually the case that the key stage of the bioprocess, where the biobased chemical is produced, works on a fraction, or derivative, of the original biomass feedstock. For example, ethanol can be produced via fermentation of the monomeric sugars obtained when the lignocellulosic polysaccharides (cellulose and/or hemicellulose) are hydrolysed. Alternatively, ethanol can also be produced via catalytic reforming of the syngas produced in the gasification of biomass.
The viability of obtaining a specific biobased chemical from biomass depends on a wide variety of factors, including the chemical composition of the feedstock and its suitability for different bioprocessing technologies. In some cases a feedstock may not be a good match for a particular biobased chemical but may be more suitable for the production of other types of biobased chemicals.

How Celignis Can Help

At Celignis our multidisciplinary team has strong understanding of: biomass chemistry, bioprocessing technologies, and the mechanisms and challenges involved in producing a wide variety of biobased chemicals. We are ready to work with you on developing a suitable bioprocess to either obtain your targeted biobased chemical from biomass or to obtain the most appropriate biobased chemicals from a given feedstock.

Potential Biobased Chemicals

There are hundreds of different chemicals that can be extracted or produced from biomass. A few examples of these are described below:


Ethanol is a two-carbon alcohol that has many important applications, including as a fuel, solvent, disinfectant, and feedstock for the production of other chemicals (e.g. ethylene which is a key raw material for a wide range of products, including plastics, resins, and synthetic fibers).

Most of the currently-produced ethanol is termed first-generation ethanol, meaning that it is produced from sugars or starches derived fom food crops (e.g. sugarcane, wheat, corn). However, much of the current focus in terms of bioprocess development for bioethanol production is focused on second generation (2G) bioethanol, sourced from lignocellulosic feedstocks.

Click below to read more about our bioprocess development for the production of 2G ethanol.

Get more info...Bioethanol



Butanol is a four-carbon alcohol with a molecular structure that gives it properties midway between those of ethanol and gasoline. It has many important applications including as a drop-in biofuel and as a feedstock for the production of a wide range of chemicals (e.g. butyl acrylate, which is used in the production of acrylics).

Biobutanol refers to biobased butanol, i.e. that is produced from renewable biomass sources, rather than from petroleum. This production is generally achieved via a microbial fermentation process, often using species of bacteria from the Clostridium genus.

Click below to read more about our bioprocess development for the production of biobutanol.

Get more info...Biobutanol



Xylitol is a five-carbon sugar alcohol that has many important applications in the food, phamaceutical, and nutraceutical sectors, among others.

Xylitol is typically produced via the conversion, chemical/catalytic or through fermentation, of the 5-carbon sugar xylose. It is also possible to produce xylitol from hexose sugars, like glucose, via the use of certain microorganisms although this process is less straightforward and efficient than the direct reduction of xylose to xylitol and is still a subject of ongoing research.

Click below to read more about our bioprocess development for the production of xylitol.

Get more info...Xylitol


Bioprocess Development for Biobased Chemicals Production - How Celignis Works With Our Clients

At Celignis we have experience in developing and optimising bioprocesses that target a wide range of different biobased chemicals. These bioprocesses can involve chemical/catalytic or biological approaches, or a combination of the these. Developing a fully-integrated process for the production of biobased chemicals from a feedstock involves a number of different steps, outlined below. We can work on projects where all these steps are undertaken or we can focus on the optimisation of a particular stage in the process. The latter is particularly relevant where our clients already have an existing technology and are looking to optimise the process at particular nodes.

1. Understanding Your Requirements

Prior to undertaking bioprocess projects we learn from our clients what their targets are from the process as well as whether there are any restrictions or requirements that may need to form the boundaries of the work that we undertake. These help to guide us to then prepare a potential bioprocess development project.

For example, in the context of bioethanol production, the primary focus of one client may be on the fermentation of cellulose-derived glucose to ethanol whilst another client may be satisfied with lower ethanol yields from cellulose providing that the hemicellulose fraction can also be used for bioethanol production. These different preferences are likely to influence our choices of pretreatment technology, hydrolysis and fermentation approaches, and process conditions.

2. Detailed Feedstock Analysis

In cases where you have already selected a feedstock for the bioprocess, we would then undertake a detailed compositional analysis (P10 or, ideally, P19) of representative samples of that feedstock.

In cases where the feedstock has not yet been selected we can review your list of candidate feedstocks, selecting top candidates based on our prior experience in their analysis and bioprocessing. If you do not have a list of candidate feedstocks then we can provide one, based on your location and the requirements outlined in Stage 1. We would then analyse in detail these priority feedstocks and come to a decision, based on the compositional data and other relevant factors (e.g. price, supply, consistency etc.) on a selected feedstock for the project.

3. Experimental Plan

At this point of the project, the Celignis Bioprocess team typically meet to discuss and prepare a project proposal for the development of the bioprocess. This will involve us defining the number and scope of lab-scale optimisation experiments, formulated according to our chosen Design of Experiments (DoE).

This work will most likely involve several different experimental datasets, focused on different stages of the bioprocess (e.g. pretreatment, primary-conversion, product recovery etc.) and, potentially, on iterative improvements/refinements based on prior experiments.

In the former case it is possible that these different sets of experiments could be undertaken in parallel (in order to achieve the project's objectives more quickly) while, in the latter case, the next set of experiments would need to follow the prior set, as the information learnt from earlier work would be needed to set the specific conditions for the follow-up work.

After this proposal is reviewed by the client, and revised if needed, we are then ready to start the lab-work.

4. Undertake Experiments

This stage of the project will involve us undertaking the lab-scale experimental work agreed in Stage 3.

It is possible for the work in this Stage to be phase-gated where the experimental work is broken-up into smaller subsections which, once completed, lead to the provision of reports/deliverables to the clients providing an update on the results and observations. Once a particular phase-gate is completed, in accordance with the requirements and expectations outlined in Stage 3, then we can proceed to work on the next phase.

In many cases these phases are based on the sequential nodes associated with the processing of the feedstock along the value chain. For example, our first phase of work can be focused upon optimising the pretreatment conditions for the feedstock with the second phase focused on optimising the hydrolysis of the pretreated sample and the thid phase focused on the downstream processing of the hydrolysis output streams.

The division of projects in this manner allows for them to be managed and evaluated more effectively and gives ample opportunities for our clients to provide feedback.

Stage 4 of the project will be completed once the DoE, formulated in Stage 3, has been completed and the final reports issued.

5. Validation at Higher TRLs

This is an optional Stage of the bioprocess development project. It involves the validation of the optimal process conditions, determined in Stage 4 at the lab-scale, at higher technology readiness levels (TRLs). The scales at which we can operate are dependent on the type of technology employed, but can reach up to 100 litres.

We have all of the necessary downstream equipment to efficiently handle the solid and liquid streams arising from these scaled-up activities.

If we find that there are differences between the yield and compositions of the different streams, compared with our lab-scale experiments, then we can explore the potential reasons for these and work on final tweaks to optimise the bioprocess for higher TRLs.

6. Technoeconomic Analysis (TEA)

This is also an optional Stage of the bioprocess development. It involves the Celignis team, including Oscar our chief TEA expert, undertaking a detailed technoeconomic analysis of the developed process. We apply accurate and realistic costing models to determine the CAPEX and OPEX of simulated and pilot scale processes which are then used to determine key economic indicators such as IRR, NPV and payback periods.

Within these TEAs we can undertake sensitivity analyses to assess the effect of variable costs and revenues on the commercial viability of the process.

Our preferred approach is to include TEA studies at each stage of the development of the bioprocess, so that the process can be optimised in a commercially-relevant way, followed by a more detailed TEA after the process has been optimised and tested at higher TRL levels.

Click here to read more about the technoeconomic analysis (TEA) services offered by Celignis.

Biobased Chemicals Projects - Case Studies

Bioethanol from Palm Residues

Celignis undertook a bioprocess development project for a client, based in the Middle East, that was targeting the production of bioethanol from the residues of local palm trees. This was a lab-scale vertically-integrated project covering pretreatment, hydrolysis, and fermentation.

The client initially had a certain type of pretreatment technology in mind and requested that we undertake a series of experiments to assess it. However, based on our initial compositional analysis of the feedstocks, we had reservations that the chosen pretreatment would be suitable for such biomass. We discussed this with the client and it was agreed that three different types of pretreatments were tested, with each pretreatment type being undertaken a number of times in order to allow for an initial evaluation on the effects of varying the process parameters on the yield and compositions of the output streams.

The results from these initial pretreatment experiments confirmed Celignis's reservations regarding the originally-chosen pretreatment and resulted in the pretreatment technology that we recommended, based on the feedstock compositional data, being selected for further study.

There then followed a more extensive series of lab-scale experiments focused on optimising the pretreatment conditions so that the yields and commercial viability of the process as a whole could be improved. The next stage of the project then involved optimising the type and dosage of enzymes, as well as other factors such as the solid-loading, in order to maximise ethanol yields from the targeted biomass components.

Glycerol from Industry Side-Streams

Celignis undertook a lab-scale bioprocess development project focused on the hydrolysis of cellulose-containing side-streams from an existing industrial process, followed by the fermentation of the liberated sugars into a variety of products, including glycerol, ethanol, and organic acids.

Following the completion of our lab-scale work, we worked on a technoeconomic analysis of the bioprocess, considering several different scenarios. These included the scale-up of the process as-developed as well as the modelling of the process after several modifications (e.g. simultaneous saccharification and fermentation (SSF) rather than separate hyrolysis and fermentation ( SHF)).

The outputs of this TEA informed a follow-on bioprocess development project, incorporating the changes deemed to give greatest impact to the process in terms of commercial and environmental sustainability.

Other Celignis Services for Bioprocess Development

Global Recognition as Bioprocess Experts

Celignis provides valued services to over 1000 clients. We understand how the focus of bioprocess projects can differ between countries and have advised a global network of clients. We also have customs-exemptions for samples sent to us allowing us to quickly get to work no matter where our clients are based.

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Biomass can be rich in bioactive compounds of high value for food, feed, cosmetic, and pharmaceutical applications. We develop bespoke extraction methods suitable for your needs with high selectivity, efficiency and low environmental impact.

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The choice of pretreatment method varies with the type of biomass and the end-product requirements. At Celignis we can determine the most suitable pretreatment for your feedstock and determine the optimum conditions in lab-scale trials followed by higher TRL scale-ups.

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For the hydrolysis of lignocellulosic biomass to monomeric sugars either chemical or biological approaches can be used. At Celignis Bioprocess we can use both methods at scales ranging from flask-level to 100-litres. We have particular expertise in the optimisation of conditions for enzymatic hydrolysis.

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Enzymes are biological catalysts that have a wide variety of applicaitons in the bioeconomy, ranging from the liberation of sugars from lignocellulosic biomass to the functionalisation of biomass-derived chemicals and materials for higher-value applications. We are experts in the design and use of enzymatic approaches.

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Development of fermentation processes requires knowledge of an array of important factors including: biomass, the microbes used, nutrient media, and fermentation conditions. We're experienced in many fermentations and can help you determine and optimise yields of an array of different fermentation products.

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Downstream Processing

How the various outputs (solid and liquid) of a bioprocess are dealt with is often overlooked until later in bioprocess development, leading to excessive costs and complications. We consider and tackle these issues, and others such as product recovery, early-on as being integral to the bioprocess.

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Lab-Scale Optimisations

We consider that optimising a bioprocess at the lab-scale is the most cost-effective approach to explore a range of different scenarios in search of optimal process conditions. Based on the outputs of these experiments we can then test the chosen set of conditions at higher TRL levels.

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TRL Scale-Up

At our dedicated Celignis Bioprocess laboratories we have all the necessary upstream and downstream apparatus to undertake bioprocess projects up to a tehcnology readiness level (TRL) of 6, with reactor and processing capacities of up to 100 litres.

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Technoeconomic Analyses

Our technoeconomic experts can evaluate your bioprocess, considering various scale, technology, and feedstock options. We apply accurate costing models to determine CAPEX/OPEX of simulated and pilot-scale processes which are then used to determine key economic indicators (e.g. IRR, NPV).

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From Process Refinements to an Entire New Process

We work closely with you to understand your objectives and timelines. We then propose a project, usually covering a series of deliverables and stage-gates. Often our projects involve optimising conditions at the lab-scale before replicating the conditions at higher TRL levels.

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Research Collaborations

Celignis is active in several bioprocess research projects. These include projects funded by the EU's CBE-JU, with Celignis being a Full Industry Member of the BIC. We're open to participating in future collaborative research projects where our extensive infrastructure and expertise in bioprocesses can be leveraged.

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