The John Bell interview: the reaction of Michael Carus, Ceo of nova-Institut

Michael Carus, managing director of the nova-Institut. Copyright: nova-Institut 2014
Michael Carus, managing director of the nova-Institut. Copyright: nova-Institut 2014

We receive and publish with pleasure this comment by Michael Carus, managing director of the nova-Institut, regarding our exclusive interview with John Bell, Director of Bioeconomy Directorate, European Commission.

We are glad to promote the debate.

Dear Mario,

with interest, we read your interview with John Bell. While we were glad to read that DG RTD is now somewhat recognizing the adverse effects of the RED, we found the later parts of the statement concerning the RED still too short-sighted. They make clear why the sector of chemicals and materials is developing so slowly and why we are losing shares of worldwide investment.

We would like to comment on two aspects:

John Bell stated about the RED that it is: “encouraging investments in technologies, logistics and infrastructure that have the potential to be used for material as well as energy uses of biomass. From this perspective, the RED might be seen as a useful catalyst for the development of the bioeconomy as a whole.“

This seems only true for a very limited range of chemicals, mainly ethanol and ethylen-based drop-in chemicals. Producing via ethanol and ethylen means to have a very low biomass utilization efficiency compared to new pathways. Especially new process pathways to new bio-based building blocks and high value applications do not profit from the investment in lignocellulosic ethanol production at all. Going this way, huge potentials of high-value chemicals, materials with new properties and also cellulose fibres are missed and realized outside of Europe.

And also, even if the statement was true, we would need to change the RED and the framework nevertheless. Without incentives, and that is proven in different economic calculations, a biorefinery would produce mainly chemicals and almost no fuels, especially no bioethanol. Only the RED incentives lead the biorefineries to produce mainly bioethanol. To change this and make biorefineries less dependent on subsidies, we have to change the RED!

John Bell stated further: “biorefineries will increasingly be able to process biomass in a cascading approach favouring highest value added and resource efficient products.”

According to most of the cascading definitions, a biorefinery is not part of a cascade, but an optimized coupled production as a starting point for a cascade. And “highest value added and resource efficient products“ only have a chance, if there is no framework such as the RED, favouring only bioenergy and biofuels and putting bio-based chemicals in a less favourable position.

It remains true: The real bio-based economy with high value chemicals and less dependency on incentives can only develop, if the RED framework will be heavily reformed. It is true that the existing infrastructure is a strong point of the European Union, but it will be dangerous to rest on these achievements and leave everything as it is. The current structures need to be expanded and transformed, and not only after 2020 or even 2030 – by then, investments will have gone elsewhere.

Michael Carus 

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