Core Activities

BEACON has a number of core strategic research activities and these include initiatives focused on:

  • Understanding how to efficiently process wet biomass using mechanical and physico-chemical technologies
  • Conversion of lignocellulose biomass into biofuels
  • Conversion of wet biomass into platform chemicals and fine chemicals
  • Developing and enhancing enzymes and microbial systems for the production of products such as fine chemicals and transport fuels
  • Isolating commercially important molecules using membrane technologies and supercritical fluids
  • Production of bioplastics from biomass
  • Production of bio-based packaging from biomass
  • Developing ‘End of Life’ methodologies associated with pyrolysis and the production of biochar and bio-oil
  • Evaluation of processing routes from biomass to products and developing the associated economic modelling


This is material derived from living organisms. In our case the main sources of biomass are from plants. Examples are perennial ryegrass, clover, miscanthus, oats, and Jerusalem artichoke. Plants convert sunlight into a variety of molecules such as cellulose, lignin and simple sugars. Our project aims to isolate these and convert them into higher value products.

Primary Processing

In many cases we cannot use the plants directly, so to improve our ability to access those key molecules and compounds, a number of processes must be used. The initial phase can use mechanical and physico-chemical approaches such as: chopping, hammering, pelleting, pyrolysis and steam explosion.

Secondary Processing

Once the initial processing has taken place we can use biological and chemical methods to convert the raw material into something with a higher value. In many cases enzymes and microorganisms will be used to help reduce complex molecules from the plants into simple building blocks such as sugars. These are then converted into e.g. chemicals using microorganisms such as bacteria, yeasts and fungi. Methods then need to be developed to isolate those molecules. This is where technologies such as supercritical fluid extraction, centrifugation and membrane systems are used to help purify the desired products.

Conversion to:

Bioethanol, Biobutanol, Plant Oils, Antioxidants, Sorbitol…..


Many products that we see around us can be made from compounds originating from plants e.g.

  • Biocomposites
  • Bio-oil
  • Charcoal, activated charcoal
  • Emulsifiers
  • Food additives
  • Nutraceuticals
  • Plastics
  • Proteins
  • Surfactants (detergents)
  • Transport fuels