International Conference on Bio-based Materials – Day 1

Michael Carus founder and head of the Nova-Institute GmbH, organiser of the International Conference on Bio-based Materials, introduces the 8th edition of what has become “the second biggest event on bio-based materials in Europe”.

Michael gave a preview of the data of a market study entitled “Bio-based Building Blocks and Polymers in the world ” which will be issued by the Nova -Institute in June 2015.

Bio-based polymers volume produced represent 32.6 million metric tons or 8.3% of the global polymer production worth nearly 400 billion metric tons. This surprisingly high % includes the category of rubber and elastomers where bio-based represent 43% of total. For the functional and structural polymers, the proportion of bio-based falls down to 5% of total’. Europe is primarily producing starch based polymers at the low end of the value chain and is foreseen to remain pretty much focused on those rather than new higher value molecules except perhaps 2.5 Furandicarboxylic acid (2.5 FDCA) the diacid necessary to produce PER and PEF. In terms of applications, packaging is foreseen to represent 40% of total in 2020 versus 15% today due to the conversion of petrochemical PET bottles to bio-based polymers (bio-based PET or PEF).

Dr Christian Pattermann, retired Director of the EU Commission, gave a recap of the last ten years since the emrgence of the Bio-economy concept.

  • 2002-2004: first activities in Canada and decision of the ministerial meeting of the OCDE to recognise the bio-economy as a key development sector.
  • 2004-2005 first European Bio-economy Conference in Brussels “the Knowledge Based BioEconomy (KBBE)”. 2 billion Euros in the FP7 program are devoted to Bio-economy.
  • 2006 introduction of the notion of bio-refineries.
  • 2010 first national bio-economy R&D strategy in Germany.
  • Feb 2012 : first international policy strategy for the bio-economy approved by the European Commission.
  • April 2012 the US and the Russian Federation approve their own national strategies.
  • 2013 : Germany is the first country to approve a comprehensive National Strategy plan for the Bio-economy followed by the Netherlands,Flanders, Scotland, Ireland and the Scandinavian countries. Spain, Poland and France are working on it and it is reported to be issued soon (under the umbrella of Big Data in France).

Lessons learned from the past ten years: biomass is the primary resource and bio-refineries will be the central production facilities of the bio-economy. Recyclability and/ or multiple reuse of biomass in diverse forms incl cascades will be the prime elements of the economical improvement of the business models. SMEs will play a key role in the innovation process but it is yet unclear who will be the key global shapers of the bio-economy in the 21st century. Bio-economy is no more limited to R&D but is at the stage of regional and national strategies and policies.

There is still a lack of coordination within Europe with a high risk of duplicated work. The Americas and Asia are moving at a quicker pace than in Europe. Which translates into Asia and the Americas taking the lion share of the industrial production of bio-intermediates and bio-polymers by 2020 unless the Juncker’ s Commission and the Private sector in Europe combine their strengths and financial muscles to radically change pace.

The strategy of the new Commission is then detailed by Dr Barend Verachtet DG R&I in the Juncker team 

The Bio-economy, “those parts of the economy that use renewable resources and waste from land and sea”, as per the definition of the Commission, is part of Juncker’s vision to create a deeper and fairer internal market with a strengthened industrial base. The ambition is to bring back industry’s weight in the EU GDP back to 20% by 2020 from 16 % in 2014. Pikés research foresees 1880 bio-refineries to be commissioned in the world by 2022 primarily US, Brazil, Malaysia, Thailand and China.

The action plan in Europe relies on PPP (Public Private Partnerships) and reinforced policy interaction. BIC (Bio-based Industries Consortium) with 77 full members represents the Private side of the PPP and the EU Commission is the Public side. Budget : 3.7 billion € ( 75% from the industry). Rules: those of Horizon 2020. Objectives : at least 5 new value chains of the bio-economy by 2020. Bio-based Industries JTI as a catalyser for the creation of new value chains through a cross sectorial collaboration of previously unrelated actors.

Major challenge in Europe is the availability and regular supply of biomass at a competitive cost: Europe has today the most expensive biomass in the world and the security of supply of a commercial size bio-refinery is not guaranteed anywhere but in some rare areas of Hungary or Poland (ref. European Biocore project conclusions).

Flagship projects mainly include activities corresponding to TRL levels 8 and operating at an economically viable scale.

2014 call of 50 million € financed 7 RIA, 2 demos and 1 flagship projects.

2015 call: 200 million € will be announced prior to the Summer.

Questions from the floor circle around two issues: the scarcity and price of biomass in Europe for which a remediation plan from the Directorate of Agriculture is not yet in sight and the subsidies still supporting fossil fuels and fossil fuel based energy throughout Europe on the detriment of the bio-economy.

Kristy- Barbara Lange from European Bioplastics (EUBP) delivered a focused view of Bioplastics in the EU and globally. She still presents the view that bio-based non biodegradable, combining cane sugar based PE and PP made in Brazil plus bio-based PET will represent the majority of volumes in 2018 for a total market estimated to reach 6,75 billion €. However, bio-based non degradable plastics on the graph are not showing any growth from 2013 to 2016.

At the same time, EUBP estimates, rightly so , that Asia will represent the lion share (76%) of the production of bioplastics ( bio-sourced and/or biodegradable as per the definition of EUBP) in 2018, which sounds contradictory. Asia’ s visible focus is not on bio-based non-degradable commodity polymers but on new molecules and bio degradable bio-polymers from both the sugar and oil- plant chemistry.

Instead of financing the industrialisation of its domestic plant based chemistry technologies, Europe has focused on establishing Standards and certifications to organise the market: for bio-based carbon content (CEN TS 16137 equivalent to US ASTM 6886), for biomass content (ACDV in France), and a standard for Bio-based products (CEN TC 411).

Legal frameworks of packaging waste has also been strengthened by the Green Paper on Waste Strategy 2013, the Proposal of the DG environment for the reduction of lightweight single use plastic bags in 2013 and the revision of the Packaging Waste Directive (PPWD) in 2014. The Circular Economy Proposal 2015 is ongoing combining a waste roadmap, including a separate collection of biowaste for organic recycling, and a broader roadmap to a cascading use of resources.

The impact of oxo-degradable bags is also being examined by the European Commission and relevant legal statement within PPWD should be issued soon.

The European Bio-economy is worth nearly 2 trillion € (including food and feed production of course which is part of it) and provides more than 22 million jobs in the EU.

Mrs Lange finally reminds the audience of the 10th EUBP conference in Berlin on November 5-6, 2015.

Opportunities for the fermentation-based chemicals industry, presented by Tom Runneboom: Honorary Chairman of the Bio-renewable Business Platform, advisory body of the Dutch Ministry of Economical Affairs.

He unveils an Analysis of the market potential and cost competitiveness of North West European Sugar Beets, a study sponsored by Deloitte and the association of sugar beets producers. Surprisingly, sugar from beats has increased its competitiveness throughout the last 15 years and is now close to a par with crude oil, at least until 2013. The end of sugar production quotas in the EU should allow farmers to further increase their productivity ( tons of sugar equivalent per hectare ) and gradually become extremely competitive for the production of carbohydrates. Sugar from Dutch beets is shown in this study to be the lowest sugar production cost in the world (well ahead of Brazil and Thailand with cane sugar and ahead of France and Germany with beet sugar). The added value products are, not surprisingly, away from alcohols like ethanol and ketones and more towards specialty chemicals. CCL: Europe has some indigenous raw materials competitive with Brazil, the US and Thailand. To say that biomass is too expensive innEurope is a broad statement that distort a different reality for certain regions and productions. There is a major investment opportunity for NW Europe to convert 6 million tons of bio-based raw materials. 1 million tons of biomass requires 1 to 1.5 million € investment to be processed into value added chemicals. Investments are required and welcome!

Dr Christine Stiehl then presents the particular approach of BASF for what concerns bioplastics.

BASF uses the mass balance approach to qualify the renewable content of bioplastics in their product range ( like Roquette and the ACDV approach in France). Motivation to use bio-based is primarily customer driven and drop-inn is the motto as far as products are concerned. Issue is to introduce bio-based into the complex “Verbund Production site”of Ludwigshaffen where 160 plants linked to one another operate as per a very competitive integrated scheme, which is the big competitive edge of BASF. Therefore, dedicated production is not in BASF’s strategy. BASF strategy is “to bridge the gap between traditional fossil based production and bio-based dedicated production.” The objective is to reduce the use of fossil resources in traditional products rather than to develop new platform molecules and new resins for new usages.

i would call this a typical defensive strategy although it was not qualified as such by Dr Stiehl.

Dr. Melanie Williams from Switzerland presents RSD: Roundtable on Sustainable Bio-materials.

Sustainability indicators should be considered at both the in-feed material level and the process. Issue is to prove GHG savings, degree of risk mitigation and fit with climate change related policies. RSD is a global multi-stakeholders sustainability standard and a certification body. Consumers need clear bio-based content claims and labelling. In this respect, mass balance based claims are confusing (eg a la BASF). Carbon content is preferable. The new RSB std on Bio-materials applies to materials with a minimum bio-based carbon content of 25%.

Panel discussion facilitated by Dr Christian Patermann

Time has come for bigger investments in Europe if we want to stay in the global game. Abundance and diversity of feedstock is essential for the industry to accepts to heavily invest in Europe. Stronger stakeholders engagement around collaborative partnerships is necessary to mobilise the critical mass of competences and cash.

Lessons learned from this morning discussions/ presentations “What are the most burning actions to be undertaken “: Access to feedstock and access to market are crucial. Change or regulation and termination of the quota policy are necessary and on their way. We need to hurry-up. Access to market should be supported by the public sector similarly to the bio-based preferred program in the US. Biodiesel can be used in naphta crackers with minimal software change which means their could be used like an hybrid solution today (in the sense of hybrid cars).

The  last presentations and discussions of the day were centered on commercial bio-refineries in various regions of the world.

The reduced availability of biomass in any single area of Europe and Capital cost reductions both points into the direction of “small scale “bio-refineries without the disadvantages of small scale. For a steam engine, the economy of scale is essential. For bio-refinery it is not the case, according to Prof Johan Sanders.

One example given is Solvay’s Epicerol produced in multiple small plants scattered in areas of South East Asia where bio-based glycerol from biodiesel production is readily available next door.

The value of biomass is 10 times higher when used as chemical building block than when used as biogas or bio-electricity. Second gen biofuel is marginally profitable in the US where straw can be sourced at 50-60€ per ton, labour is 7€ per ton and energy is 15€ per ton (based on data from DSM’s project POET, leaving the company with 18€ per ton of gross margin if we assume the selling price of ethanol to be around 100€ per ton. If you pay 100€ per ton of straw in Europe, there is no profit left. The advantages of small scale close to the supplying field (500 ha in surface) are mentioned: less energy for transportation, less energy for heat exchange as the process water containing potasses and minerals can be returned to the farmers’ fields without need to evaporate through heat exchange .

In Asia, examples of bio-refineries built by group PRECISE are presented. biomass residues in SEA are deemed to represent 300 million metric tons of primarily rice straw and palm oil residues. Issue is again availability is existence of a transparent market for those residues that are often traded tax-free on the black market (as straw in Europe is too, to a large extend). Most of this biomass is currently transformed into energy to fill the gap between current energy production and demand. The scale-up of Technologies and processes used in second gen bio-refineries is also there considered by financing bodies to be risky as they need to address multi biomass entries.

The next example is presented by Dr Rainer Busch: the Ligno Cellulosic Feedstock (LCF) bio-refinery in Leuna ( Saxony), referred to as “the cornerstone for cascading use of woody biomass”. The refinery has been focusing on beechwood. The fractionation process is Organosolv. Hydrolysis of cellulose is delivering glucose which is mixed with xylose and fermented to produce ethanol and chemicals. Lignin is transformed into biomaterial fibre products. Leuna is an integrated chemical site where 6 billion € have been invested since 1990. 9000 employees work in Leuna and 12 million tons per annum of chemicals are produced . Since 1990, the site has been run by an infrastructure company for the chemical industries that are sharing it. Since 2011, an impressive number of demo plants have been built on the site, the latest being the one of French Global Bio-energies. An Organosolv LCF demo plant of 8000 mt capacity is been built and should be commissioned in 2017. This project is supported by the bio-economy cluster made of 70 partners, mainly industrial companies.

The last part of day 1 is devoted to the presentation of products competing for the innovation award “bio-based material of the year 2015” delivered by nova-Institute.

The award has been granted to Bayer Desmodur* eco N. 2015 bio-based material of the year is the first bio-based polyurethane cross-linker in the market. Application of Desmodur is performance coating for automotive. Desmodur is a polyisocyanate based on Pentamethylene Diisocyanate (PDI).

This article was written Bruno Lepitre, chief editor of Bioplastics News.

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