BEACON Biorefining in Wales

A partnership between Aberystwyth, Bangor and Swansea Universities.

Led by Aberystwyth University’s Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Science (IBERS), in collaboration with its partners at Bangor and Swansea Universities, the BEACON initiative uses pioneering techniques, known as biorefining, to assist companies in developing new low carbon technologies and new ways of making products that are traditionally made from oil. Backed with £10.6 million from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), BEACON aims to establish Wales as a Biorefining Centre of Excellence and make a vital contribution to tackling climate change.

Increasing awareness regarding the environmental impact of producing chemicals, materials, transport fuels and energy from fossil fuels such as natural gas, coal and oil is driving a reappraisal of how best to produce these commodities. Current worldwide consumption and demand for fossil fuels, particularly oil, is placing a massive strain on a finite resource, particularly when taken in the context of India and China’s rapidly expanding economies.

Fossil fuels are made of organic matter i.e. dead plants and animals which, over millions of years have been transformed into oil by high temperature and pressure. Given the finite nature of fossil fuels and their on-going price volatility, an alternative is to make transport fuel or chemicals from plant biomass directly using a process called biorefining.

What is biorefining?

Biorefining takes organic material e.g. plants and uses a series of mechanical, biological and chemical processes to convert the biomass into a broad range of commercially important products including pharmaceuticals, transport fuels, energy sources and chemicals.

The aim of BEACON

The main aim of BEACON is to use the concept of biorefining to work with end user companies, in order to identify a wide range of products from plant material which are tailored to their requirements. The biorefinery concept uses non-food crop feedstocks in much the same way that oil refineries use crude oil to produce a broad spectrum of commodity products. It seeks to give manufacturing companies a commercial advantage in the marketing of these renewable products as well in the future environmental and economic sustainability of their businesses through application of these developing technologies.

The benefits of biorefining

  • Replacing some of the industrial chemicals produced from oil with similar molecules from plants that could supply potentially lucrative markets within easy reach of Welsh producers.
  • Turning crops such as Rye Grass, Miscanthus, Oats and Artichokes into valuable fuels and chemicals would cut back on greenhouse gases and would increase fuel and chemical security whilst adding value to the Welsh economy.
  • Chemicals derived from plants have uses in a range of sectors, including transport, food, health, hygiene and the environment.
  • They include new materials called bio-composites and bio-plastics. As well as creating and safeguarding jobs in West Wales and the Valleys, the pioneering work will help develop science in Wales.

These days sustainability is a key corporate responsibility for businesses seeking to develop and grow - BEACON can help you meet your environmental obligations and your commercial objectives.

How can we help you?

BEACON offers businesses with interests in the biorefining sector access to the research, expertise and knowledge base of universities in Wales.

We can help:

  • Companies in the construction, packaging and manufacturing industries by developing new biocomposite materials
  • The bioscience industry – for example, developing new microbial or enzyme systems and technologies for the processing of biomass
  • The chemical industry by providing new sources of ‘green’ chemicals
  • Fuel producers by offering ‘green’ fuels, impacting on the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) and reducing carbon emissions
  • Rural communities by applying biorefinery technology to the processing of non-food crops

The BEACON partners can undertake

  • Formulation of new biocomposites
  • Extrusion / bioplastics
  • Novel chemistries / applications
  • Metabolic engineering of yeasts
  • Protein modelling such as new enzymes for e.g. food industry or bioprocessing