COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology) is a pan-European intergovernmental framework. Its mission is to enable break-through scientific and technological developments leading to new concepts and products and thereby contribute to strengthening Europe’s research and innovation capacities. It allows researchers, engineers and scholars to jointly develop their own ideas and take new initiatives across all fields of science and technology, while promoting multi- and interdisciplinary approaches. COST aims at fostering a better integration of less research intensive countries to the knowledge hubs of the European Research Area. The COST Association, an International not-for-profit Association under Belgian Law, integrates all management, governing and administrative functions necessary for the operation of the framework. The COST Association has currently 36 Member Countries. www.cost.eu
COST rules and guidelines:
Detailed description of the aim and objectives, the scientific program and organization, and other planned activities of COST Action FP1306 – LIGNOVAL can be found in the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU)
The urgency to identify and develop sustainable and timely solutions for our future society has become clearly demonstrated due to the alarming trends in global energy demand, the finite nature of fossil fuel reserves, the need to dramatically curb emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG), the damaging volatility of oil prices (in particular for the transport sector) and the geopolitical instability in supplier regions. Waste lignocellulosic (i.e. from forestry or agricultural activities) or processing by-products (i.e. sawdust, etc.) are particularly interesting to fuel the non-food applications such as chemicals production. The valorization of lignocellulosic biomass constitutes a new frontier of economically sustainable and environmentally friendly processes.
The EU has recognized that and in order to sustain our demands in energy, chemicals and food, while addressing environmental issues, we need to substantially reduce our dependence on oil by establishing a bio-based economy. Future European standards on bio-based content will encourage greater use of bio-feedstocks. Other major drivers for this topic include: increasing compliance costs to meet regulations for existing substances (e.g. REACH), favoring investment into economically and environmentally sound alternative feedstocks, growing public awareness towards environmental issues and cradle-to-grave concerns leading to industry’s increasing concern over their ‘green credentials’. All these important aspects make the launch of a COST Action dedicated to the valorization of whole lignocellulosic biomass residues highly relevant.
The COST framework offers the best support for networking to defragment academia, interconnect technology hubs, enable collaboration between academia and industry and facilitate technology transfer, in both COST and non-COST countries for the development of low impact environmental processes and feedstock agnostic technologies for lignocellulosic biomass waste valorization. Research groups and industries involved in this area have significant expertise but are working independently. The symbiotic organization of a COST Action offers ideal support for networking and bringing experienced and young researchers together, with the aim to develop new concepts and technologies for the valorization of lignocellulosic residues within a multidisciplinary and multinational collaborative network, providing critical mass to this highly topical research area of Biorefineries.
The primary objective of an advanced biorefinery is to increase the availability and use of bioenergy and bio-based products by implementing innovative, environmentally sound and cost
effective production technologies for a variety of products. To maximize the benefit from the "whole biomass waste”, i.e. to utilize all parts/components of biomass towards useful products,
pretreatment and fractionation steps are a prerequisite in such biorefinery concept.
Lignocellulosics contain three main components, cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin. Typically, the cellulosic fraction is the desired one to be further upgraded to end-products. However, during all fractionation processes, different types of side-streams are formed, containing the non-cellulosic lignocellulose components either intact, or more typically, in chemically altered forms. So far, these by-products have been generally under-utilized and many times considered as waste and/or a problem. This is one of the main issues our society is currently facing in terms of the general and most extended perception of consumers, end users, industry and scientists that overlook the potential of by-products, residues and waste from agriculture. In order to improve the techno-economic feasibility of lignocellulosic-base processes, it is crucial to find value-added applications for all the components, not only cellulose. Much research is already ongoing related to the alkaline process streams, as they are produced in the traditional cooking processes applied for the production of paper grade pulps. However, neutral to acidic processes are becoming increasingly interesting as pretreatments for the saccharification-fermentation route, as well as for the production of hemicellulose-lean pulps for the textile industry. The challenge in the recovery of the dissolved components from acidic process side streams is the detrimental nature of the acidic conditions on their structures. Typically, hemicelluloses are hydrolysed to monomeric forms, and further to furanic components via complicated reaction routes.
Novel valorisation techniques are therefore urgently needed that can utilize this type of modified sugar based raw materials. Lignin is not readily dissolved under non-alkaline conditions. However, due to chemical reactions, also some lignin with altered structure is found in the liquors. This type of lignin may possess interesting properties for material applications, but challenges remain both in respect to its separation from the other dissolved components, as well as understanding its chemistry, i.e. structure and potential routes for further chemical modification in order to induce the desired material properties. One target of this initiative is the utilization of hemicelluloses, derived from side-streams of biomass processing routes such as mild acid pretreatment, as a substrate for the conversion to high value-added furanic products. Furfural (F) is obtained from pentosan-rich biomass, such as hardwood, and agricultural residues of sugarcane, corn and wheat. Recently, furfural and its derivatives have been used to make jet and diesel fuel range alkanes, to serve as a gasoline blendstock, and to develop new generation of biofuels and bioplastics. The second target is the valorization of lignin, which is a bio-polymer consisting of phenolic monomers. Under the mild acid pretreatment conditions, a very small part of lignin can be dissolved and goes to the processed liquid together with hemicellulose sugars. In most cases, a lignin rich solid "residue" is produced, which could be used as "solid biofuel" in combustion processes to produce heat and electricity. Intensive research has focused in recent years on the conversion of lignin to high value chemicals and fuels/fuel precursors, via thermochemical and catalytic upgrading routes. However, the production of these fuels is at present not cost-competitive and therefore substantial improvements need to be achieved. In all cases, a green chemistry approach needs to be included which attempts to develop novel catalytic, solvent free and environmentally friendly processes. In this project, we aim to address the above mentioned challenges for the development of new furanic and phenolic components for novel fuel and polymer applications.
The main objective of the Action is to develop low impact environmentally sound and cost-effective lignocellulose valorisation technologies to be exploited in the production of industrially-relevant bio-derived chemicals, materials and fuels. An additional goal of the Action is to strengthen the scientific excellence in the area and to disseminate this information to European scientists, industry and other key stakeholders. The measurable deliverables will include Short Scientific Missions (exchanges) of young researchers, Workshops and Training Schools and joint publications in the focus areas. The scientific impact will have a long term effect on the transformation of the European industry towards bio-based products as a base for a European BioEconomy.
The main objective of the Action will be achieved by reaching the following secondary objectives:
The potential application areas and benefits to the European forest-based and bioenergy-based industries as well as agro-industries are numerous, such as improvement of traditional manufacturing processes to save energy or chemicals, development of sustainable and low environmental impact solutions for the utilization of forest and agro-industrial resources, design of novel efficient catalytic systems for more efficient hydrolysis of lignocellulosic carbohydrates into sugars, and novel transformation processes of intermediates into fuels, energy and chemicals. Through this Action the potential of the European forestry-agro sector is not only to become the major player in the field of European biofuel production, but also to develop and provide novel biorefinery technology on a global scale. Novel biorefinery concepts would expand the existing value chains resulting in new business opportunities in different fields. This will contribute to the preservation of pulp and paper industry in Europe and will increase the share of biofuels in the transportation sector being one of the most important goals of current EU policy. A successful development and implementation of biorefineries will provide the basis for expanding the impact of biomass utilisation on environment and energy supply, as well as on employment, well beyond the current targets set by the European Commission. The scientific outcome of this COST Action will contribute to the development of new environmentally friendly processes for industries upgrading lignocellulosic raw materials for fibres, composites, chemicals and energy carriers. The Action will also support SMEs that have limited research facilities to develop and adapt bioprocesses. Adapting of new technologies is important for the competitiveness of the sector with respect to e.g. the USA and Japan. The Action will especially benefit the forestry sector (Pulp and paper) by creating new knowledge and new synergistic approaches for biorefineries, helping to preserve this industry in Europe. Presently, pulp and paper companies evaluate traditional or nonconventional pulping methods to take advantage of the potential carbohydrate streams for ethanol production. The chemical industry has started to consider lignocellulose as a source for “platform chemicals”. The Action will also benefit the agricultural sector as value-added products can be generated from the lignocellulosic waste raw materials. During the life-span of the Action, know-how on new benign methodologies will be delivered to academia and industry through annual workshops, conferences and publications. The Action is expected to lead to various innovations; i.e. development of novel heterogeneous catalytic systems and their application in biorefineries.
The extend of networking throughout the 4-years period of the Action was very satisfying and there was a good balance between the various groups of participants, according to COST policies on Inclusiveness Target Countries (ITCs), Early Career Investigators (ECIs)/ Young Researchers, and gender balance. This can be realized by the following numbers (percentages) of participants per targeted group for all the activities implemented during the 4-years period of Action (4 annual Workshops, 9 WG meetings, 2 Training Schools, 51 STSMs): total participants 642 - 156 from ITCs (24%), 235 were ECIs/Ph.D. students (37%), 347 Male (54%) and 295 Female (46%). A full list of the implemented activities with figures and statistics is shown in this Table