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The Biobased Delta recently published its 2018–2020 long-term plan. This plan mainly looks to the future. That is logical, but what has been achieved in past years under the Delta flag? And can Biobased Delta play a part in speeding up the development of a biobased economy? Agro&Chemie put five propositions to chairman Herman de Boon and director Rop Zoetemeyer.
Lucien Joppen

1. The Biobased Delta must become an international top region in the biobased economy. A nice ambition, but is the cluster living up to it?

De Boon: ‘The Biobased Delta really has everything it takes to grow into an international top region in the biobased economy. In that process we serve as stimulator, promotor, driver and as the party which brings others together. The parties which have taken the initiative for the Biobased Delta – the business sector, the knowledge institutions and the municipal and provincial governments of Brabant, Zeeland and Zuid-Holland – do realise, of course, that the transition we are facing will take a long time. It is not a linear process, rather an upward line with regular periods of reconsideration.’

Zoetemeyer: ‘A great deal has been achieved in our region in recent years. Take the Natural Fibre Application Centre, which has expanded substantially. Another example is the entry of ECN in the Biorizon consortium. Or the Green Chemistry Campus in Bergen op Zoom which is becoming increasingly important, partly through the acquisition of a Diels-Alder Skid to produce and develop bio-aromatics (editor’s note: see article on pages 36 and 37). I am also struck by the activity of the SME. Businesses from diverse sectors are examining the role of biomass in their products, for example natural fibres in biocomposites or bioplastics. Their stories show that this is anything but easy, but that they are persevering because they see opportunities.’

2. What significant challenges will the Biobased Delta face in the coming years?

De Boon: ‘To start with, the impact of the three big programmes is becoming increasingly important. These programmes are Redefinery (editor’s note: large-scale biorefinery of wood pellets), Sugar Delta (editor’s note: conversion of sugars in chemical products and materials) and Biorizon (editor’s note: development of bio-aromatics). We have an initiating as well as supporting role in those programmes. We supply project team members, do everything we can to connect parties, look for financial backers, help with acquisition and promotion and provide advice.
Zoetemeyer: ‘We are now entering the phase in which we will expand our national and international network to share knowledge, R&D and business development and speed up new activity. For the rest, we will strengthen the connections between all things biobased that are happening in the Delta. Consider the 14 top locations, such as the Green Chemistry Campus in Bergen op Zoom and the Bio Tech Campus in Delft which focus on R&D, and the application centres (like the Biopolymer Application Centre in Oosterhout and the centre for natural fibre applications in Raamsdonksveer). We also intend raising our profile in the outside world. The motto will be: ‘Be good and tell about it.’ We are not only going to show what we do, make and develop, but also emphasise that the size and location are the strength of the Biobased Delta. The Delta extends across three provinces and has a logistics hub function for the Dutch and European hinterland and the ‘agrochemical factor’.’

3. Biobased Delta wants to put the biobased economy on the agenda and promote it. How can you keep biobased on the agenda, given that the government agenda is currently prioritising the circular economy?

De Boon: ‘The new coalition agreement actually provides a multitude of possibilities. The climate agreement and thus the reduction of CO2 emissions are the key point. In addition, biobased and circular are strongly interwoven concepts. A circular economy is inconceivable if we do not switch to biobased.’
Zoetemeyer: ‘In the end, the chemical and manufacturing industry need a source of carbon. We have to reduce our CO2 emissions in the coming decades by capturing, storing and using it. It is too expensive to merely store it. Furthermore, that would mean leaving a raw material unused. A direct conversion from CO2 to chemicals and then materials can therefore ultimately prove to be a promising route. The CO2 contained in biomass, for example, can be used for fuels or chemicals through the process of pyrolysis. The Pyrolysis testing ground in southern Netherlands was established within the Biobased Delta for that process. The business sector in the Delta has great interest in this initiative.’

4. Funding is a recurrent theme, or rather, the funding gaps which hold back the biobased economy. What part can the Biobased Delta play in this area?

De Boon: ‘The very good news is that the funding climate has become much more favourable. One area I see this is the strategies of the larger pension funds such as PGGM and APF, which want to invest more in ‘orange-green’ areas, so more in the Dutch and green economy. These funds focus on large investments and thus adhere to a strict risk profile. Through Invest NL there is now also an investment vehicle for smaller tickets, which can help SME companies, start-ups and scale-ups to get further.’

‘One of the strengths of Biobased Delta is that we also have a strong network in the financial and pension fund world. We are working on bringing the different worlds together. We do that by seeking investors for companies which develop and produce biobased products. But also by using the expertise and connections from our network to help businesses develop feasible business cases for the production of biobased building blocks, semi-finished products and end products which can compete on the current market. The Biobased Delta also pushes for an economic, social and political lobby to stimulate the demand for these products.’

5. In conclusion, the SME. It looks like the biobased economy is ‘pushed’ mainly by the multinationals. Where are the small and medium-sized enterprises?

De Boon: ‘It is precisely the start-ups and the SME which are innovative. A good example is PEF. That comes from Avantium and not from BASF. We must not forget that the SME represents a substantial portion of our economy and thus also ‘goes along with’ the transition.’
Zoetemeyer: ‘At the top locations in the Biobased Delta such as the Green Chemistry Campus (Bergen op Zoom), the Bioprocess Pilot Facility (Delft), the Bio Innovation Garden (Colijnsplaat) and in the application centres we see SME businesses from different sectors carrying out projects. The SME regularly calls on our expertise, for example in making business plans. And I would like to emphasise again the possibilities offered by Invest NL. There too, we can show the way. Of course we want to involve the SME more in our programmes. That is and remains an important objective within the Delta.’