NewsMarine Biorefineries: a next-generation solution for the circular blue bioeconomy? 

Marine Biorefineries: a next-generation solution for the circular blue bioeconomy? 

According to the United Nations, global consumption of natural resources is forecasted to rise 60% by 2060 compared to 2020. This will put unprecedented pressure on the environment, exacerbating climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss, especially if traditional extraction methods are used. Thus, developing innovative next-generation solutions and conserving renewable natural resources have become more important. The concept of Biorefineries is emerging as a promising answer to this global challenge.

What is a Biorefinery? An integrated facility that uses cascading sustainable processing technology to convert whole or fractionated biomass into multiple marketable bioproducts and bioenergy. The aim is to optimize resource use and minimize waste, with the cascading product flow starting with the highest value products and ending with the production of biofuels and energy options that destroy biomass.

In the Biorefinery concept, marine biomass remains underutilized. Several biomasses can be processed in a Marine Biorefinery, e.g., algae (macro- or microalgae), fisheries by-catch, or seafood processing coproducts (e.g. heads, tails, skin).  

There is a myriad of products that can result from a Marine Biorefinery. Algae, for instance, are ideal for obtaining biofuels, lipids (e.g. omega-3 fatty acids), pigments (e.g. carotenoids), proteins, or bioplastics (e.g. Poly Lactic Acid). While fish bioresources can be processed into biofuels, proteins (e.g. collagen), enzymes (e.g. proteases), fish oils (e.g. squalene), polysaccharides (e.g. chitin), or mineral-based compounds (e.g. hydroxyapatite). 

But, despite their potential, Marine Biorefineries are still in their infancy, with most only at the conceptual stage. Major bottlenecks are high production costs, scalability issues, and the complexity of marine biomass processing. 

How can emerging technologies unlock the full potential of Marine Biorefineries? Artificial intelligence, Digital twins, and Machine learning can be important tools to optimize bioprocessing operations, predict outcomes, and improve yields. Robotics and automation can streamline the harvesting and processing of marine biomass. Advanced bioprocessing technologies, like fermentation, enzymatic processes, or nanotechnology, can improve the conversion efficiency of biomass and the extraction of high-value bioproducts. Finally, advances in synthetic biology may enable the genetic engineering of marine organisms for specific applications. The integration of some of these technologies in the biorefinery concept is yet limited. But as they evolve, they will be crucial for developing efficient, scalable, and sustainable Marine Biorefineries, contributing to a greener and more resilient future. 

At B2E CoLAB, we are strongly committed to boosting circular bioeconomy principles. An example of this is our leadership of the project FishMatter to develop an intelligent platform for valorization of marine coproducts, within the Blue Bioeconomy Pact (funded by the NextGeneration EU). We believe that this platform will be a major contribution to knowledge in marine biomass and a key enabler of Marine Biorefineries conceptualization, that will pave the way to the holistic development of a circular blue bioeconomy in Portugal.  

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