The partners of the BIOPEN project carried out 5 perspective studies, that have been centered around two axis: raw materials and intermediate and end products. Raw materials include lignocellulosic biomass, micro and macro algae, and waste. Products are categorised into bio-energy, bulk products (eg. bio-aromatics), biofuels and energy carriers, intermediate chemicals (syngas, glucose, lipids etc.).
Raw materials are associated with primary and secondary products and the resulting value chains are evaluated accordingly; lignocellulosic biomass is examined mostly for value chains involving commodities and bulk chemicals and products (for wood applications for example) and to a lesser extent for biofuels and specialties. Algae are targeted mainly for specialties but also energy carriers, and waste is studied in bio-energy production value chains (this is state-of-the-art) with secondary alternatives the production of commodities (this is the trend and more interesting). Each value chain under study contains more than one end-product and addresses multiple applications, since the multiple paths can enhance business perspective and sustainability for the companies in the value chain.
In particular the 5 perspectives studies carried out are:
- Environmentally friendly coatings and packaging materials with specific functional properties derived from biorefinery and biotechnological processes
- Functional polymer and oligomer products (including thermoplastics and natural rubber), functional carboxylic acids and amines, surfactants peptides with adhesive properties, produced through biotechnological pathways using fermentation and metabolic engineering.
- Products and applications based on lignocellulosic feedstock, mainly wood :
- Attractive and ecological alternatives to tropical timber
- Innovative bio-based materials made from wood
- Bio-based chemistry from wood as a raw material (polymers from cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin)
- Syngas for Synthetic Natural Gas (SNG), diesel, or other biofuels e.g. methane, methanol, and dimethyl ether via catalytic processes, and the production of bulk chemicals (e.g. ammonia)
- Other energy carriers (biogas, pellets)
- Alternative aromatics from green raw materials for the production of synthetic materials, chemicals and coatings, like paints and glues.
- Algae and seaweed ingredients in food products, for the purification of wastewater, and as a green raw material for niche chemical and high added value products (carotene, lipids), fine chemicals for the food and pharmaceutical industries such as AO (antioxidants), PUFA (Poly-unsaturated-fatty-acids), pigments and phycocolloids but also bioplastics and biodiesel.
The perspective studies showed that the global market for bioproducts should reach $714.6 billion by 2021 from $466.6 billion in 2016 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.9%, from 2016 to 2021 (BCC RESEARCH 2017). Biomass can be used to make a lot of different products, however significant research is still needed to improve fractionation and industrializing the processes. Large scale and small scale are both very challenging and many potential products need an oil price much higher than today. Markets of high value products are usually too small and growing the volumes often slaughter the price levels.
Among the most general conclusions is that technology must be developed and upscaled further into first piloting and then demonstration of use-cases. Smaller companies (SMEs) should be also given a wider access to the existing biorefineries and supported by low cost shared experimenting and testing facilities.
Also, complementary feedstock must be secured and the supply chain must be optimized from within and outside Europe to ensure enough availability at the best price. The goal is to produce large quantities of the new chemical building blocks, but also prepare and support with policies and incentivize the chemicals industry to change towards alternative feedstock. Specifically, the use of bio-based aromatic molecules for the production of more sustainable products, such as bioplastics instead of bio-fuels, could result in better market potential for bio-based aromatics in the longer term.
The product mix of biorefineries must be optimize by including not only the readily and easily marketable drop-in chemicals, for which the downstream supply chain is already in place, but also highly specialized and high value functionalized compounds.
To discourage the fossil-based product developments and also incentivise the proliferation of the bio-based products this study suggests that specific measures must be put in place towards this direction; these include the intensification of the CO2tax, introduction of tax on fossil-based plastics to account for end-of-life solutions, combined with financial incentives: e.g. low VAT on bio-based, high VAT on fossil, and subsidies adequate for providing the momentum of the bio-based products but not act as permanent crutch. Sharing best practices, like from Novamont in Italy who are one of the leaders in the BBE must be enable through joint projects.
The BIOPEN project is a CSA project funded under BBI JU and coordinated by Ciaotech (part of PNO Group) Italy. The consortium involves 9 partners highly specialized in the bio-based industry. It comprises five European bio-based clusters (Bioeconomy Cluster, Biobased Delta, CLIB2021, Turku Science Park, West Pomeranian Chemical Cluster Green Chemistry), three open innovation expert companies (Ciaotech, Europe Unlimited, Innovation Engineering), and one research centre (National Technical University of Athens). The perspectives studies will be soon online.