BIOWANZE opting for Miscanthus over fossil fuels

Earlier this year, leading Belgian-based bioethanol producer BIOWANZE, announced its readiness to invest in an integrated miscanthus value chain in order to realise its ambition of becoming fossil-fuel free on long term.

During a half-day event on April 4th, BIOWANZE presented a 25 hectares (ha) pilot project, which, if successful, will result in approximately 2000 ha of the lignocellulosic crop being deployed for energy purposes. Invited participants, namely representatives of the Wallonian Government’s Agriculture, Industry & Innovation and Environment departments as well as academics and public and local authorities, were encouraged to raise their questions and concerns on the project.

Located between Liege and Namur in Belgium’s Wallonia region, Biowanze‘s refinery has been processing wheat and sugar-beets into bioethanol since 2009, with an annual capacity of 300 million liters. By integrating a number of processes, this facility is also capable of producing a vast assortment of byproducts, such as gluten, feed and fertiliser, as well as all side-streams (e.g. electricity and steam).

Miscanthus will replace bran, a wheat processing residue, in its CHP unit, making it instead available as an ingredient for animal-feed or further high value molecule extraction, while producing renewable energy for the facility and the surrounding communities.

The pilot project will include the establishment of 25 ha of miscanthus in buffer strips, i.e. long linear strips along waterways, roads or select public buildings. Buffer zones to prevent soil erosion, nutrient leaching, contamination and flooding are some of the public services farmers provide in parts of this region: using miscanthus may be a suitable option for all these purposes, while also having a value as a feedstock, a win-win solution.

As a pioneer project, the plantation will be tested extensively to validate assumptions of economic, environmental and social feasibility. A vast array of satellite projects, involving academies and research centres will assess the crop’s capacity in terms of phytoremediation, carbon capturing and impacts on biodiversity.

According to André Tonneaux, BIOWANZE’s Director: “The company is not pursuing this project for financial reasons, as fossil fuels would remain significantly cheaper, at least presently. There is a concrete will to improve environmental performance and go beyond the minimum requirements. I dream of breaking away from fossil fuels entirely before my retirement, in 10-15 years.

If the pilot project will prove positive, and win the public’s acceptance, BIOWANZE will scale it up beyond its initial 20km radius around the facility. In fact, the ambition of the Belgian group does not stop there: In a future stage, other uses beyond bio-energetic valorization could be integrated – thus establishing a biorefinery which will integrate fully in a ‘bioeconomy’ context.