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¿What is a biorefinery?

A biorefinery is a facility that produces different ways of energy (for example fuels) and chemicals, like a petroleum refinery. The main difference between them is that a biorefinery uses biomass (agricultural waste, agribusiness, municipal organic waste, etc.) and a petroleum refinery uses non-renewable fossil-derived petroleum.

The biomass conversion processes show a high potential due to the sustainability of the process and the use of residual material for the production of alternative energy and added high value material.

              It is important to know that there are many types of biomass and technology so there is a variety of products that produce in a biorefinery.

The term `biorefinery’ entails the economic conversion, fractionation, or extraction of a spectrum of biomass sources through integrated physical, biological and chemical processing for the production of various commodities and specialities. Currently, research and development of three types of biorefineries depending on the source of biomass used as raw material:

  • Whole-crop biorefinery
  • Green biorefinery
  • Lignocelluloses feedstock biorefinery


¿What is a virtual laboratory?

           Virtual laboratories are a software that enable you to simulate experiments with the computer for a better comprehension of the processes. Use the virtual laboratories make you possible to access to laboratory equipment through the browser and execute difficult and expensive experiments, without risk and execution time.

 Advantages of virtual laboratories:


  • It facilitates the students to execute experiments although they are not in the laboratory. The student access to laboratory equipment through the browser and execute difficult experiments, without risk and execution time. He can make it when he needs to do it.
  • It reduces the cost of installation and maintenance of traditional laboratories. It is a cheap and efficient alternative. The student simulates the phenomenon like if he did it in a real laboratory.
  • It is a self-learning method, where the student can change the input variables, configure new experiments, learning management tools, customize the experiment, and so on. The simulation enables a more intuitive view of those phenomena.
  • The students learn by trial and error, without fear to produce an accident. They can also repeat the same practice several times without execution time. They can use the laboratory when they need to do it, and choose the most significant areas of the laboratory for their work practices.


Why a Biorefinery virtual laboratory?


            Biorefineries can be an excellent object of study in many scientific applied disciplines, it integrates many processes of the food industry, including chemistry, chemical engineering, biology, agronomy, biotechnology, materials engineering, the environmental engineering, computer science, thermodynamics, energy, electrical engineering and economics, among other ones. This allows students to develop cross-curricular competencies.

Furthermore, practical lessons have an important role in engineering and experimental sciences, in accordance to the competition development "apply learning to practice", referred to the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), and they need to be promoted properly. There is an urgent necessity to get that students integrate their theoretical knowledge with the labs during the academic year. Among the good pedagogical reasons that motivate the need for inclusion in the curriculum are to illustrate and validate the analytical concepts introduced to students in internships and uncertainties involving non-ideal situations, etc..

Although the study of the biorefinery concept allows innumerable series of practical applications that can be developed in the laboratory, students hardly come into contact with the processing of biomassindustry due to high cost of equipment used and the specific measures security they require.

Likewise, in order to get the proper development of practical activities derived from the biorefinery concept, it is important the union of experience and knowledge of different research groups and disciplines. Therefore, it is necessary additional coordination effort to develop many specific educational materials. This effort is multiplied by the time that the need for physical space and set a timetable for implementation of the practical classes required. All these reasons make extremely difficult it can be shown how a biomass biorefinery trainees works  and these ones create a barrier to knowledge transfer.

Due to this situation, several fundamental questions come up: what can we do to teach the students in an interactive and practical way these applications, despite the economic constraints, how to coordinate different teaching groups that do not coincide in the space to develop an interdisciplinary concept of biorefineries, how to make this transfer of knowledge was real and effective, how to get all this was useful for the student to develop a series of basic skills such as learning to learn, as the EHEA specifies?

Thus the concept of virtual laboratory of biorefinery or "virtual biorefinery" arises, a self-learning tool where students can alter the input variables, set up new experiments and learn how to use tools and customize them.

This type of virtual laboratory aims to bring the teaching to the business world, the R & D & I and the research with a reasonable cost. It represents an element of agglutination for many teaching, research groups and companies with recognized experience on exploitation and analysis of biomass issues, biofuel production and analysis, processing of waste, which  share their knowledge to provide a common educational, flexible and added high value material.



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