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Not so long ago, only hydrogen experts were convinced about the potential to decarbonize the energy sector in Europe. If you look at the hydrogen hype today, you wonder what has changed. It was a niche sector yesterday, and is supposed to be the norm tomorrow.
Marco Rupp

The hydrogen sceptics at the time argued against hydrogen because of the high costs and doubts about the potential to scale-up “green” hydrogen to commercial levels. There was also lack of a political mandate for hydrogen.

For the bio-based industries, the story is similar to that of hydrogen a few years ago. Compared to the fossil-based industry, many alternatives are in their early stages, and cannot yet compete in terms of cost and scale. Fossil-based, with its decades-long head start, huge economies of scale and ubiquity is, for now, the cheaper option.

Nevertheless, like hydrogen, the bio-based industries offer an opportunity to Europe that needs to be grabbed with both hands. The bio-based industries are a driver towards Europe becoming more resilient and transitioning to a greener industrial ecosystem.

Europe is already heavily-invested in the bioeconomy. When it comes to scaling-up and reducing costs, we are not starting from scratch. From a research and innovation perspective, there is the €2 billion commitment from the public and private sector represented by the European Commission’s public-private partnership with BIC, the Circular Bio-based Joint Undertaking. Europe’s bioeconomy sector has some 19 million employees and a turnover of more than €3 billion. Biomass in all its varieties is a resource we have plenty of in Europe and should use in in a sustainable way. This includes less reliance on imports and shorter-supply chains.

However, whilst hydrogen is seen as a way to decarbonise, at BIC we look how to defossilise the material and chemical sector in Europe. It’s simple chemistry: you always need carbon molecules if you produce materials, be the packaging on the food you buy in the supermarket, the insulation of your home, or the components in your car. What we really need to do in Europe, is to avoid the use of new or “virgin” fossil carbon. And, for that, we need a lot of alternatives to fossil-carbon by 2050 in the chemicals and materials sector. Here is just one of the opportunities presented by the bio-based industries – including carbon from biomass and biowaste, with can provide around 20% of the carbon required in 2050.

You can only defossilise, but not decarbonise the material sector. So, let use carbon which is renewable, circular and sustainable.

Bio is not a buzz or a fad. Bio is part of the solution for Europe to become climate-neutral and resilient. But this will not happen by itself. So, here my plea for the EU’s next political mandate (2024-2029) – DON’T MISS THE OPPORTUNITY. Let’s sit together and discuss what the transition pathway towards 2050 looks like, and agree on the actions it takes to use the opportunities and tackle the challenges. For example, how can we exploit readily available and future bio-based solutions? Which policy actions will allow Europe to benefit from the circular bioeconomy? Now is the time for the bio-based sector to go from niche to norm.