“The Dutch Bioeconomy is based on world class farming and agro-industry with very high yields and productivity per hectare. Whereas the country is small in terms of size, often reflected in small to medium size farms, it plays a leading role in Europe in the agro food sector”. What differentiates the Dutch bioeconomy from other European bioeconomies? We have asked this to Willem Sederel, general manager of the Dutch Biobased Delta, who talks to Il Bioeconomista, right after the fourth EU Bioeconomy Stakeholders’ Conference that took place last 12-13 April in Utrecht.
Interview by Mario Bonaccorso
European bioeconomy stakeholders agree that there is no just a bioeconomy but many bioeconomies. From your point of view, what differentiates the Dutch bioeconomy from others bioeconomies?
The Dutch Bioeconomy is based on world class farming and agro-industry with very high yields and productivity per hectare. Whereas the country is small in terms of size, often reflected in small to medium size farms, it plays a leading role in Europe in the agro food sector. The following main factors contribute to this situation: very fertile land, often reclaimed from the sea (clay), highly educated farmers, best in class science and technology institutes, such as Wageningen University and Universities of Applied Science for Agro-industry, a favorable climate with enough rain throughout the season and no shortage of good quality water. On top of this the Netherlands is known for its plant breeding companies that are very successful in developing high quality seeds that often have a higher value than gold per troy ounce! The Dutch have a long standing track record of successful innovation in agro, horticulture, and livestock. This concerns both the “software” (crops, biomass, animals, way of working) and the” hardware”(equipment, farm and plant lay out, logistic systems, automation, sensing). We find a lot of cross-sector collaboration in the Netherlands, people and organizations know to find each other relatively easily often helped by network organizations and clusters that more and more have a public-private partnership structure and are so called triple helix organizations consisting of companies (large and small), knowledge institutes and governments. Thus the connection from agro to chemicals, materials, paper, logistics, water and the energy sector is greatly facilitated. This is essential to establish the much needed transition to a Biobased economy and Biobased society.
What is the role of the logistics system in the development of the bioeconomy in the Netherlands?
Logistic systems are key in the development of the bioeconomy. Having a well-established reliable supply chain is a prerequisite for companies to even consider bioeconomy solutions based on biomass derived feedstock. It is clear that local biomass is preferred since it has lower logistic costs and is more sustainable. It allows for closed loop approaches and boosts the local economy. Nevertheless when large volumes are required, eg for feed (soya) or for feedstock for the chemical industry, bulk biomass with high solids content such as wood pellets can be cost-effectively imported without too high negative impact on the LCA. Preferred options always make use of a mix between locally produced and imported biomass feedstock thus avoiding that the locally sourced biomass rises too much in cost when demand increases.
What is the role of Biobased Delta in this scenario?
In the Biobased Delta, government organisations from Zeeland, North Brabant and South Holland work together with small and medium-sized businesses, multinationals and knowledge institutions to gain momentum for a biobased economy (BBE). In a biobased economy fossil feedstock, like oil and gas, is replaced by renewable raw materials. This is essential to reduce the carbon footprint resulting in a positive impact on climate change.
The Southwest Netherlands region has all the ingredients to be globally competitive in the new sustainable economy thanks to its large number of agri and chemical companies, strategic location between two international ports, strong logistics sector and available knowledge infrastructure. A recent study conducted by Deloitte (Biobased Delta, a globally competitive region for developing biobased business, june 2015) confirms the distinctive and competitive position of Biobased Delta on an international scale. The report shows that the region has ample capability to make the most of being an “early mover” to increase the economic value of sugars and lignocellulosics through biotechnology and chemistry. This is of great importance because the regions and clusters in the world where a large-scale BBE will take form in the decades to come will be determined over the next five years. So the ambitions are high: by the end of the year 2016 the Biobased Delta aims to be a top region in which new insights into the biobased economy are applied in the process industry and agro-food sector in a smart way. This can be achieved by bringing together the relevant parties and working with comparable organisations both in the Netherlands and abroad. The top locations, knowledge institutions and application centers in the Biobased Delta also play an important role in its success, as they provide a knowledge infrastructure and serve as an important link to practice.
What are the focus areas of Biobased Delta?
The Biobased Delta focus areas are: green raw materials, green building blocks and sustainable process technology coming together in green chemistry and application development, the goal of which is to facilitate the transition to a BBE. Towards this end an extended triple helix approach with collaboration between industry (start-ups, SME and multinational enterprises), knowledge institutions, governments and government agencies, NGO’s and branche organisations is crucial to achieve this. Important themes are the economic value increase of sugars, large-scale biorefining, aromatics and application development, summarized by the slogan: “Agro meets Chemistry”.
Towards that end the Biobased Delta acts as a networking cluster and public-private partnership in order to connect, initiate and execute with and through its valued partners.