From Plants to Bioenergy

Course content

“How are plants constructed, and how can we deconstruct them and convert them into sustainable energy carriers? These questions will be addressed in this cross-cutting and interdisciplinary MSc course. Biotechnology, biorefining, agrology, forestry, sustainability, chemistry, engineering and circular bio-economy are among the themes covered in the entire value chain “From Plants to Bioenergy”.   

The course will provide the theoretical basis for understanding the biosynthesis and structure of type I and type II plant cell walls, plant growth - including carbon and nitrogen sequestration. New breeding technologies and genetic tools that can be used to maximize biomass production and tailor biomasses in order to improve the biorefining processes will be covered. Along with this, new agricultural and forest practices for sustainable intensification of our current production systems will be discussed. The options also include exploiting marine biomass, such as algae and seaweed.  

Presentations of conversion technologies and the various biorefinery routes to produce solid, liquid and gaseous fuels will be a substantial part of the course. For the biochemical routes, this will provide overview and theoretical understanding of the biotechnological processes involved. These include the various enzymes (cellulases, hemicellulases, amylases etc.) and their synergistic action needed for biomass deconstruction as well as the microorganisms used in fermentation processes to produce bioethanol or other upcoming fuels and the microbial community in biogas digesters. Chemical and thermochemical pathways to produce biodiesel, drop-in fuels and synthetic gasoline will be presented. An essential learning objective is the understanding of how biomass characteristics influence the conversion process and how to best design processes and select biomass for the most efficient use of the biomass in a biorefinery. In this context, calculating conversion yields and performing mass balances will be used to estimate process yields and efficiencies. Assessment of sustainability will be demonstrated by life-cycle assessment (LCA) of selected energy products.

Topics covered are:

  • Plant cell wall components and their structure
  • New plant breeding strategies and genetic tools for biomass improvement/adaptation
  • Biomass production from agriculture, forestry and aqueous systems (micro- and macro-algae)
  • Thermochemical, biochemical/biotechnological and microbial technologies for conversion of biomass to energy carriers
  • Sustainability assessment
  • General principles of biorefining and circular bioeconomy
Education

MSc Programme in Agriculture
MSc Programme in Biotechnology
MSc Programme in Environmental Science
MSc Programme in Forest and Nature Management

Learning outcome

Knowledge

After course the student will able to:

  • Define plants as lignocellulosic, starchy, sugar, and/or oil crops and describe their cell wall structure and composition (carbohydrates and lignin).
  • Evaluate C- and N- sequestration in different crop plants in response to growth condition.
  • Outline how breeding and genetic tools can be used to improve biomass productivity or make biomass more suitable for biorefining.
  • Account for mechanical, thermochemical, biochemical, enzymatic and microbial operations and techniques used in biomass conversion.
  • Outline routes for processing and conversion of biomass to major solid, liquid and gaseous energy carriers: 1) Bioethanol (1G and 2G), 2) Biodiesel, 3) Biogas, 4) Thermal conversion products (biooils, synthesis gas, Fischer-Tropsch-diesel, heat and power).


Skills

 After course the student will able to:

  • Calculate conversion yields of conversion processes and perform mass balances over bioenergy production systems.
  • Use microscopy to describe and identify structures on real biomass samples.
  • Explain structural and chemical differences between major biomass source and discus how this influences biorefinery options.
  • Apply knowledge to propose a complete conversion route for a specific biomass to a suitable energy carrier, including rationalising for selection of appropriate processes, enzymes and microorganisms.
  • Present relevant knowledge in the form of a scientific poster and participate in academic discussions on technical and sustainability aspects of bioenergy production systems.


Competencies

After course the student will improve:

  • The ability to take responsibility for one’s own learning. Including: 1) Reading and reflecting on scientific literature. 2) Solving and presenting calculation exercises. 3) Working both individually and in groups. 4) Engaging actively in class dialogue / discussions.
  • Knowledge sharing. The students of this course often have diverse study background, e.g. biotech. students, agronomists, and students from Copenhagen Business School stimulating cross-disciplinary knowledge sharing and discussions. 

A combination of foundation lectures, dialogue based teaching, calculation exercises, excursions to industry, self-studies, poster presentations and discussions.

See Absalon for course literature. Articles, laboratory notes and monographs.

Academic qualifications equivalent to a BSc degree is recommended.

A basic knowledge of agriculture, forestry, breeding, chemistry, and biotechnology are required, preferable with a BSc within one of these topics.

Written
Oral
Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)

feedback on written exercises will be in writing and oral

Otherwise oral feedback in discussion

Poster preparation and presentation: oral feedback peerfeedback

ECTS
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written examination, 4 hours under invigilation
Poster presentation 20%, and written exam 80%
Aid
All aids allowed
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Several internal examinators
Criteria for exam assessment

See learning outcome

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 70
  • Preparation
  • 60
  • Theory exercises
  • 28
  • Practical exercises
  • 4
  • Excursions
  • 20
  • Project work
  • 20
  • Exam
  • 4
  • English
  • 206