Monday, 14 December 2015

Catching up with biobased at EFIB 2015

The European Forum for Industrial Biotechnology and the Bioeconomy (EFIB) 2015 took place on 27-29 October at the Square in Brussels and the eighth EFIB was the biggest yet. SusChem and Cefic organised a dedicated session on biobased chemical value chains as part of the conference on 29 October entitled: ‘Is the chemical industry catching up with biobased.’

The session covered changing attitudes and approaches by the chemical sector to biobased, the measures needed to accelerate uptake of renewable feedstocks, and views on the most significant recent developments in the biobased industry sector.

Transformative
The SusChem session highlighted the transformative nature of the bioeconomy and its strong impact on the chemical industry. This goes beyond mere adoption of new feedstock; the emergence of the bioeconomy can lead to entirely new value chains, products with new or enhanced functionality, new markets and new business models.

The panelists in the session shared optimistic perspectives on its theme of the ‘chemical industry catching up with biobased’ including several highly relevant success stories. But they also expressed an array of motivations for considering biobased feedstock ranging from an opportunistic approach (the new properties and improved competitiveness that certain biobased products could provide) to strong consumer demand for some segments of the industry and longer term sustainability objectives.

The rational choice of raw materials and their smart use is a key factor for better resource and energy efficiency - indeed the bioeconomy is one option for the chemical industry to reach its challenging sustainability objectives. Therefore the chemical industry needs to be prepared to foster industrial symbiosis combining different technologies in a truly sustainable approach. For example, the combination of chemical and biotechnological processes can provide the tools to maximize the full potential of biomass.
“A Biorefinery is a good example of Industrial Symbiosis as it requires multiple partners”
Considering upstream aspects of the biobased value chain, raw material availability and feedstock price are major drivers that influence directly the development of new biobased products. On the other hand, consumer needs must be taken into consideration since the conception phase of new products and markets, as well as transparency via product labelling, are important to increase the acceptance of biobased products in society.

Cultural barriers and skills
The discussion covered the need to overcome cultural barriers with new or unusual partners and the necessity for the chemical industry to deal more closely with upstream partners in the biobased value chains. Looking at the challenge for another perspective an interesting question was: “Is biobased prepared to be part of the chemical industry?”

Panelists also stressed the need to communicate more and better to society/ the general public about the benefits of biobased products and services.

An interesting discussion within the panel and with the audience touched upon the skills required to develop the bioeconomy. New skills, including ways to work across different disciplines, are strongly required for the development of biobased value chains. However “the borders between disciplines are blurred” and this is a challenge that needs to be addressed.


The session was hosted by Cefic’s Executive Director Research and Innovation Pierre Barthélemy with Dr. Henrike Gebhardt of Evonik Industries, Reinhard Buescher of DG Grow, European Commission, François Monnet from Solvay, Dr. Stefan Lundmark of Perstorp AB, and Dr Marcel Wubbolts from DSM on the discussion panel (see above).

SusChem and the bioeconomy
Industrial Biotechnology is currently worth €23 billion representing just 6% of sales in the overall worldwide chemicals market. However, the sector is significantly out-performing the overall chemicals market at an impressive 20% annual growth rate and has the potential to become the dominant technology of tomorrow’s chemicals industry.

The SusChem Strategic Innovation and Research Agenda (SIRA) includes a dedicated chapter on ‘A Sustainable and Inclusive Bioeconomy’ and SusChem is an essential link between the chemical industry, industrial biotechnology and stakeholders in the bioeconomy.

The platform is actively involved in two large and relevant PPPs between the European Commission and industry launched in 2014:
SusChem contributes to the alignment of both initiatives. The interface between BBI and
SPIRE is the provision and use of biobased platform chemicals. In addition, both PPPs may support projects using biotechnological conversion processes and specific improvements of biotechnology processes may be eligible for funding through either PPP. SusChem will enable the coherence of on-going and future funding initiatives and the deployment of flagship projects that demonstrate technological leadership and that Europe is a globally competitive location to invest in the bioeconomy.

EFIB 2015 Highlights
Further reporting on the activities at EFIB2015 and preliminary details on EFIB2016 to be held in Glasgow from 18 to 20 October 2016 can be accessed via the EFIB website.

A short video featuring highlights from the EFIB2015 conference and exhibition is embedded below.



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