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Integrated Biorefinery Research Facility

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The recently completed IBRF is available for industry partners who wish to collaborate with NREL.

An architectural drawing morphing into a photo of the constructed building.

NREL's Integrated Biorefinery Research Facility (IBRF) enables researchers and industry partners to develop, test, evaluate, and demonstrate processes for the production of bio-based products and fuels—all with a focus on reducing performance risk and improving the commercial viability of new processes.

The IBRF's 27,000-ft2, high-bay biochemical conversion pilot plant accommodates bench-to-pilot-scale processes for converting cellulosic biomass into a variety of fuels and chemicals at process throughputs of up to one ton of dry biomass per day.

In addition to the facility itself, NREL's world-renowned staff of expert biomass researchers and scientists work with IBRF partners at every stage of process development, from exploratory process R&D through to pilot-scale process runs.

The IBRF includes compositional analysis laboratories staffed by experienced analytical chemists and chemical technicians, who, in addition to producing comprehensive biomass analysis results, can develop customized analytical methods for new sample types and provide training on biomass compositional analysis procedures.

Advanced biofuels produced in the IBRF can be tested and analyzed in NREL's fuel testing laboratories. Process performance data generated in the IBRF can be incorporated into techno-economic and life-cycle analysis models to estimate market feasibility, cost sensitivities, and environmental sustainability attributes of commercial-scale production.

Scientists from Cobalt Technologies leveraged IBRF expertise and capabilities to scale-up and test their process for making renewable butanol.

Butanol is valued as an industrial chemical — used in plastics, paints, adhesives, and inks — and, through a Cobalt-U.S. Navy process, can be made into jet fuel. It also can be a drop-in replacement for blending with petroleum-derived fuels. More.

IBRF Capabilities

  • Versatility to handle a wide range of biomass feedstocks and pretreatment processes
  • Ability to accommodate and incorporate equipment from partners or third-parties into end-to-end process integration and evaluation tests
  • High-quality process performance data generation supported by automated data acquisition and process control systems along with world-class chemical analysis
  • Expertise to integrate multiple technologies for pilot-scale testing and process validation
  • Experience developing intellectual property and helping industrial partners commercialize technologies.

Pretreatment

  • Bench- and pilot-scale biomass chemical impregnation and dewatering systems (screw presses)
  • Dynamic impregnator reactor system offers flexibility for staged feedstock pre-processing operations in one vessel
  • 1-L high-solids stirred batch reactor
  • 4-L steam-injected batch reactor (steam gun)
  • 130-L steam-jacketed and steam-injected batch paddle-type mixed reactor (temperatures up to 160°C)
  • Continuous horizontal screw-type reactors
    • 100–200 kg biomass per day (dry basis) capacity (140°–210°C temperature and 5–30 min residence time)
    • 0.5–1.0 ton biomass per day (dry basis) capacity (140°–210°C temperature and 3–120 min residence time)
  • Continuous vertical reactors
    • 0.7–1.0 ton biomass per day (dry basis) capacity (140°–200°C temperature and 1–60 min residence time)
    • 0.5–1.0 ton biomass per day (dry basis) capacity (140°–210°C temperature and 10–40 min residence time) with an additional in-line reactor for optional secondary treatment at lower temperature
  • All reactor systems can accommodate a variety of pretreatment catalysts.

Enzymatic Hydrolysis

  • High-solids bench-scale tumbling reactors (up to 10 L)
  • 1,900-L hot-water jacketed paddle reactor for high solids slurries
  • Four 4,000-L hot-water jacketed enzymatic hydrolysis reactors for semi-continuous processing at total solids loadings greater than 20% (w/w)

Fermentation

  • Multiple stand-alone fermentation systems from 15-L to 100-L scales
  • Pilot plant fermentation train consisting of two 160-L seed production vessels, two 1,500-L seed production vessels, and four main 9,000-L fermentation vessels
  • All vessels can be operated in batch, fed-batch, or continuous modes of operation and can also be used for enzymatic hydrolysis performed at low to moderate levels of insoluble solids
  • Continuous high-temperature, short residence time sterilizer.

Product Separation and Recovery

  • Solid-liquid separation systems, solid-bowl and perforated-bowl centrifuges, and a semi-continuous pressure belt filter
  • Forced-recirculation evaporator
  • 19-sieve tray distillation column.

Supporting Capabilities

  • Biomass compositional and structural analysis
  • Fuel quality analysis
  • Process engineering and economic analysis
  • Molecular biology (metabolic and protein engineering)
  • Microscopy and ultrastructure analysis
  • Rheology and particle size characterization
  • High-throughput pretreatment and enzymatic hydrolysis screening
  • Computational modeling.