Almost all of the products we currently make from fossil fuels can also be made from biomass. These bioproducts, or bio-based products, are not only made from renewable sources, but they also often require less energy to produce than petroleum-based ones.
Researchers have discovered that the process for making biofuels also can be used to make antifreeze, plastics, glues, artificial sweeteners, and gel for toothpaste.
Other important building blocks for bio-based products are carbon monoxide and hydrogen. When biomass is heated with a small amount of oxygen, these two gases are produced in abundance. Scientists call this mixture biosynthesis gas. Biosynthesis gas can be used to make plastics and acids, which can then be used to make photographic films, textiles, and synthetic fabrics.
When biomass is heated in the absence of oxygen, it forms pyrolysis oil. A chemical called phenol can be extracted from pyrolysis oil, and it is used to make wood adhesives, molded plastic, and foam insulation.
In the future, you may see biorefineries—much like petroleum refineries—producing not only biofuels but also a variety of bioproducts. These biorefineries could also generate electricity for their own use and for possible sale as well as their own process heat.