“By having the first full scale 2G biorefinery (Mossi & Ghisolfi’s Biorefinery in Crescentino, editor’s note) I am convinced that Italy will play one of the important and leading roles in 2G bioeconomy on a European level. We hope very much that the next full scale plant will be in Denmark.The EU countries have a unique chance to be first movers and preferred partners in the future global bioeconomy”. To say it, in this interview, is Anne Grete Holmsgaard, the director of the BioRefining Alliance, the Danish partnership organization working to promote 2G biofuels and bioeconomy in Europe. Denmark has a leading role in the European bioeconomy. With Anne Grete Holmsgaard we talk about BioRefining Alliance, but especially bioeconomy and European policies to foster it. “We need – says the BioRefining Alliance’s director – the EU to speed up and decide on a better regulation with targets for 2G biofuels, which will give a very clear signal to investors.
Interview by Mario Bonaccorso
Mrs Holmsgaard, please tell us first what is the Biorefining Alliance?
BioRefining Alliance is a Danish partnership organization working to promote bioeconomy in Denmark. It is founded in 2011 by Dong Energy (Denmark’s leading energy company, owned – 76% – by the Danish Government), Novozymes (Danish biotech giant focused on enzymes for industrial use), Haldor Topsoe (Danish catalyst company) and Danish Agricultural and Food Council, that represents the farming and food industry of Denmark including businesses, trade and farmers’ associations.
What’s the governance of the Biorefining Alliance? What are its goals?
BioRefining Alliance is governed by a board with members from our four partners. Additionally, we have a Secretary with a director and two employees.
Our goal is to strengthen Denmarks position and create jobs in the whole value chain from sustainable biomass production to advanced bioproducts.
The Alliance is Danish but operates in an European context. Is that so?
Yes, since especially European legislations and directives will have a large impact on how the market for 2G biofuels and bioproducts will evolve working on a European level is crucial to us.
The new field of Bioeconomy is rapidly developing around the world. Major investments are currently being made in the development and production of bio-based products – not only in large countries like China, Brazil and the US, but in a number of EU Member States as well.
These efforts are motivated by several factors: the realisation that the era of fossil fuels is drawing to a close; rising oil prices and the wish to reduce our dependence on imported oil; climate policy; and, finally, a wish to be centrally positioned in growing markets for bio-based products.
Denmark has a strong point of departure for becoming a leading player, creating new jobs and increasing its export revenues by giving top priority to bio-based products where the feedstock is sustainable biomass. But this will only happen if we dare to be ambitious and make bioeconomy a new priority area for Denmark.
The central issue is therefore: does Denmark intend to be just another customer buying other countries’ biomass-based products or do we want to be an active producer providing knowledge and technology and a preferred partner of the best international players?
What is the role played by the Government in this context?
Denmark has a long tradition of political support and favorable legislation in regards of sustainable energy technologies like wind power, energy efficiency and cleantech in general. This support has given Denmark a frontrunner position on many of these green technologies and lead to commercial success stories such as Dong Energy being a leading investor in off-shore wind in Northern Europe, Vestas Wind Systems (the Danish wind turbines giant that generated revenue of EUR 1,988m in the third quarter of 2012 – an increase of 49 per cent to the year-earlier period, editor’s note), a whole range of subcontractors.
During the Danish EU presidentship in 2012 the conference Bioeconomy in Action was held and the government overall supports bioeconomy and has funded research and development in this area – but the support has not yet lead to concrete political initiatives that can help developing a commercial market for 2G biofuels and bioproducts The government is currently working on a European level in regards of legislation and therefore seems to postpone national legislation that could secure Denmark’s frontrunner position in bioeconomy.
Which kind of policies could make the difference?
The need for regulatory measures to govern the use of biomass for electricity and heating was recognized in Denmark long ago. In our country support is granted for the burning of straw (approximately DKK 750/tonne) and for wood and biogas. The aim of this is to replace fossil fuels, but in reality this only replaces coal and natural gas – not oil. So, considering that the replacement of oil is a critical parameter, it is necessary to also create incentives that can prompt investors to risk investing in the production of 2G biofuels.
Unless the framework terms are modified, the biofuels markets will continue to be dominated by food-based products. Consequently, we will also be unsure of whether biomass per se is being used where it benefits society the most.
For other bio-based products – materials, feedstuffs, food ingredients, etc. – regulatory measures can promote sales. So far, development is driven forward by major multinational corporations choosing to profile themselves on plant-based materials – exemplified by Coca-Cola’s “plant bottle” and by Toyota’s decision to have 10% of its materials be bioplastics in 2020 – or by small niche markets.
The US Government has gone one step further: On 1st May of last year, the US Administration announced a new regulatory procurement proposal that would give preference to products containing bio-based building blocks. It would be natural to take advantage of this possibility and to identify areas where public procurement could be used to create markets for bio-based products.
As far as you’re concerned, which will be the role played by Italy in Europe?
By having the first full scale 2G biorefinery (Mossi & Ghisolfi’s Biorefinery in Crescentino, editor’s note) I am convinced that Italy will play one of the important and leading roles in 2G bioeconomy on a European level. We hope very much that the next full scale plant will be in Denmark. The EU countries have a unique chance to be first movers and preferred partners in the future global bioeconomy. But we need the EU to speed up and decide on a better regulation with targets for 2G biofuels, which will give a very clear signal to investors.
The Italian version is published on http://www.affaritaliani.it/green