On January 19th Clean Tech Delta organised a so called atelier about the bio based economy. The line-up of speakers was great and represented the triple helix of science, companies and public private organisations.

Ton Runneboom linked the promise of a bio based economy to the broader context of sustainability and did not believe that biomass to electricity will be competitive. Johan Sanders talked about competitive feedstocks, functionalizing, heat and chemical formula’s. Important messages about value streams and scale. Arij van Berkel added insights about bio based relevance for the city and entrepreneurship: innovative bio based applications in medical and building materials. Nico van Dooren highlighted the outcome of COP21 and the renewables and bio based strategy of the Port of Rotterdam. Dilemma’s around how to connect the present to the future. The Port of Rotterdam organises itself for open innovation and Nico stressed that collaboration is key.

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The EU has high hopes (should I say ambitions) for bio based. The overall objective is to accelerate the conversion of fossil-based industries to low carbon, resource efficient and sustainable ones. Not only should this lead to substantial CO2 emissions reduction, local jobs will be created and knowledge based innovation stimulated. The dominant logic is one of sustainable development. The promises around phasing out fossil, the creation of jobs and the reduction of waste are not, however, supported by solid business cases. Large scale substitution can only happen if the economic framework is attractive to industrial balance sheet investors and project financiers.

A broad knowledge base and relevant (bio)technologies need to be developed, focusing mainly on three essential elements:

  • transforming current fossil-based processes into resource and energy efficient biotechnology based ones;
  • establishing reliable and sustainable supply chains of biomass, by-products and waste streams supporting market development for bio-based products and processes
  • Standardisation and certification at the European and international level is a requirement for the determination of bio based content, product functionalities and biodegradability. Advancement in Life Cycle Analysis is needed for scientific development and market adaption.

Bio based public private partnerships like Bio Based Industries are designed to accelerate above mentioned goals. Particularly for the chemical industry bio based offers opportunities and increasingly data are available to support the business rationale for bio based chemicals. A good example is the Deloitte report on the market opportunities for fermentation based chemicals (2014). It is, however, never simple. Supply and demand economics of the feedstock (for example sugar), alternative markets for those feedstocks, price – performance of the chemicals, process integration etc.

A possible way forward is to form new value chains through integration in existing clusters to overcome uncertainty about economics and environmental benefits. Over time, once the bankable opportunities of bio refining (multiple value streams) and advanced materials are recognised by investors and industrials, scale up through vertically integrated and disaggregated approaches will occur. The knowledge and insights needed to set up such a strategy are available through the triple helix partners as set out here above.