According to Nelo Emerencia, responsible for programming within BIC (72 industry-members; 169 non-industry members; contributing with € 2.7 billion to BBI’s total budget of € 3.7 billion) we live in an era of perpetual change. As it stands, forecasts – even for the mid-term – are hard to make. ‘In 2012, when BIC was formed, we had to work very hard to get the necessary number of private companies on-board to gain critical mass. We succeeded in bringing together companies from various industry sectors willing to invest in the development and deployment of sustainable value chains, converting biomass feedstock into marketable value-added products for a wide variety of market applications. Our starting membership was relatively heterogenic, with representatives from the chemical, forestry, agrofood, waste and energy sectors. The SIRA at the outset of BIC, had to appeal to all parties involved. They needed to see their core business reflected in this long-term R&D&I-agenda. It made perfect sense.’
No ocean liner
The original SIRA focussed on five value chains, mirroring the strategies of the above sectors: the mobilisation and conversion of lignocellulosic feedstock into advanced biofuels, biochemicals and biomaterials; to increase the number of value-added products derived from forestry biomass; the development of new agro-based value chains by improving agricultural production and generating new value-added products and markets; the conversion of currently unused waste streams into valuable products and, finally, to integrate energy, pulp and chemicals biorefineries through sustainable bio-energy production in operations aiming at higher added value components production. ‘Along the way, we have incorporated actors in other industrial sectors, such as the food processing, the aquatic/marine and CO2-utilisation sectors’, Emerencia says. ‘It shows that BIC is not an ocean liner or an ultra large crude carrier with a relatively fixed ‘cargo’ that needs quite some time to adjust direction if needed. We can act flexibly and quickly enough to take these and other parties aboard to sharpen our vision while staying the course.’
Invest in Europe
Since the start of the BBI programme, the emphasis has been on technology development and upscaling that would facilitate ‘building’ business cases within the above value chains. Using and upscaling proven technologies in demonstration and flagship projects will start realising bio-based value chains from feedstock to market. These large projects, already representing significant investments, will lead the way to further investments in a competitive, innovative and sustainable Europe. Now there are four BBI grant-funded flagship projects. BBI’s first flagship is First2Run, demonstrating the technology, lower ecological footprint and economic feasibility of converting underutilized oil crops, such as cardoon from marginal lands into chemicals, materials and fuels.
‘Originally, we had foreseen five flagships by 2020, producing new products that have proven to become cost-competitive with fossil-based products. Through the 2016 call we will already have six’, Emerencia says. ‘In fact, we could have more flagship projects if it wasn’t for the funding. To expand financing opportunities for excellent projects, we are increasing cooperation with regions throughout Europe. In this respect, we have signed MoUs with ERRIN and the Vanguard Initiative and are partnering with a.o. the six Model Demonstrator Regions and bio-based regional clusters in Poland and Finland. Teaming up with regions will help us establish bio-based industries across Europe.’
‘While we are making good progress with biomass feedstock integration and technology development and scaling up, we must ensure market access for bio-based products’, Emerencia says. Therefore, aside from recruiting actors from other/more industrial sectors and expanding into central and eastern Europe, BIC is actively seeking brand owners to join. Brand owners can help the bio-based value chains delivering the needed high value bio-based products with specific performance capabilities to meet market demand. Brand owners may also have residual or side streams from their processes that could enjoy significant valorisation versus current disposition, through the bio-based industries.
Supply and demand driven
‘For all the above reasons and to reflect recent policy and regulatory developments, we need to adjust the SIRA’, Emerencia says. ‘The original SIRA was more feedstock/supply-oriented, with a strong focus on technology development. This approach also reflected to state of the industry back then. However, several brand owners have set up strategies with ambitious targets in terms of sustainability. Consumers have become more aware of the impact of consumer goods on the ecology. In other words, end markets are coming nearer and becoming a true partner in sustainable value chains. Therefore, our new SIRA will clearly include the market perspective: which products and/or functionalities are needed for identified applications. These specs will be ‘back casted’ into the value chains all the way to the biomass feedstock. These feedstocks could be agro-, forest-, aquatic-based, or from bio-waste or gaseous streams such as CO2.’
Outperform on the basis of LCA
When asked about the most promising business cases for the near future, Emerencia is hesitant naming specific examples. ‘Momentarily, drop-in bio-based chemicals are having a hard time, given the low crude oil price. One needs to perform a life cycle analysis to arrive at comparable costs and impacts. This hasn’t been done consistently yet, but when done, bio-based drop-ins may well be competitive with fossil based counterparts. Bio-based chemicals with more and better functionalities that can outperform fossil-based chemicals are marketable. For example FDCA (2.5 Furandicarboxylic acid for making polyesters like PEF (polyethylenefuranoate)), is well-placed in the market, not in the least because of the involvement of fast moving consumer goods (FMCG)-companies and large chemical companies for the production and marketing/sales/distribution on a global scale.’