Unlocking the potential of the bioeconomy

The transition towards a ‘bioeconomy’ or ‘bio-based society’ is key to combating resource depletion and climate change. 

Favouring products made from wood and other biomass will enable local, renewable feedstocks to replace imported, finite raw materials, thereby reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. Recognising the strategic importance of this transition, the European Union has declared the bioeconomy a priority area, with high potential for future green growth and jobs.

But making products from biomass can be a complex business. Many goods can easily be made from wood, but how about the chemicals and plastics used in so many everyday items? The key to creating a bioeconomy will therefore be the development of new technologies which can transform renewable natural resources into more complex bio-chemicals and bio-plastics.

That’s where projects such as Bio4Products come in. Bio4Products will demonstrate an innovative conversion method to transform biomass into high added value chemicals. It will then show how these sustainable resources can replace fossil materials in a wide variety of end products, delivering a 75% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Sustainable Feedstock

Just because a product is bio-based doesn’t necessarily make it sustainable: the raw materials might compete for space with food crops, or require more land, water and energy than fossil-based alternatives. That’s why Bio4Products will use only non-food residues such as straw, bark, forest residues and sunflower husks. These woody materials are unsuitable for food production and do not stimulate indirect land use change (ILUC). Currently, there is no commercially viable technology for industry to exploit these resources, making their harvesting non-economic in many cases.

Innovative Conversion

The biomass will be sourced locally and transported to the Bio4Products conversion plant in the Netherlands. Here it will first be treated by a technique called fast pyrolysis: a thermal treatment that converts solid biomass into a liquid bio-oil in a matter of seconds. The functional groups present in the bio-oil will then be separated by fractionation to obtain a sugar stream (derived from cellulose and hemicellulose) and a lignin stream. These renewable chemicals are suitable for further processing into bio-based products.

Pyrolysis plant, the Netherlands. Source: BTG Biomass Technology Group

Pyrolysis plant, the Netherlands. Source: BTG Biomass Technology Group

New Bio-based Products

Industrial partners in Belgium and Germany will then demonstrate the integration of these sustainable resources into their production processes across four product groups: roofing material, phenolic resins, sand moulding resins, and engineered wood and natural fibre reinforced products.

The overall objective is to create four end products for which between 30 and 100% of the original fossil-based stream is substituted with sustainable resources, and which deliver a 75% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Wider Impact

Greenovate! Europe will work with all Bio4Products partners to commercialise the products and processes developed during the project. This includes identifying new downstream applications and markets for the Bio4Products intermediates and products. With considerable potential to include its sustainable resources in other product ranges, Bio4Products can help unlock the potential of the bioeconomy in Europe, and beyond.

This article was originally published by Revolve Media and can be accessed here.