An interview with Marcel Lubben, Reverdia. “The bioeconomy is a long-term commitment”

Marcel Lubben

“We expect full support for the bioeconomy in close connection with the circular economy. Together they can tackle two very pressing societal issues i.e. climate change (through lowering carbon footprint) and the plastic waste problem (through collection, reuse and recycling)”. Marcel Lubben, President of Reverdia, the JV between Royal DSM and Roquette which is producing bio-based succinic acid, talks to Il Bioeconomista. In this exclusive interview he talks about Reverdia and his expectations related to the new EU bioeconomy strategy that will be presented next October 22 in Brussels.

Interview by Mario Bonaccorso

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DSM: in Europe we need a more integral approach to the bioeconomy from regulators

In Europe there is a need for stability and coherence in the regulatory field of new energy. The Commission’s decision to limit to 5% the use of first-generation biofuels (those derived from food crops) goes in the wrong direction. To say it is Martijn Antonisse, director of new projects on bio-based products for DSM, the giant Dutch multinational active in the fields of life sciences, nutrition and materials (22 thousand employees worldwide, with a turnover of € 9 billion in 2011) . One of the first industries to sniff the new business of bio-economy, the new economy based on biological resources, and invest good money.
Mister Antonisse, how much is DSM investing for bio-based products?
We don’t reveal our R&D expenditure for any specific subject. What we can share is that we spent 5.3% of net sales on R&D in 2011
Well, I think a significant percentage. But what makes DSM so decided to focus on the bioeconomy?
We don’t know exactly what the future holds for our planet, but we strongly believe that we need to prepare for the era when fossil feedstock will become too expensive, or even limited in availability. As our great-grandparents and their ancestors did, we will need to return to living of the land – using wind, solar energy, hydro and crops, be it smarter (a/o through the use of biotechnology) than we did before we found oil.
According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, next-generation ethanol alone could create up to a million man-years of sustainable employment in Europe between now and 2020, and help reduce road transport green house gas emissions by 50%.
DSM wants to be a leader of this revolution. Thanks to our company, new enzyme and yeast technology exists that has made cellulosic ethanol – that is biofuel made from (non edible) plant residues– commercially viable for the first time.
So what do you think of the European Commission’s decision to restrict the use of first-generation biofuels to 5%? The discussion in the whole of Europe is lively …
The proposal to limit the use of crop-based biofuels to 5% and at the same time double or quadruple count several non-food-related alternatives, will eventually lead to a lower percentage of current fuel consumption being fulfilled with renewable alternatives. To us that is a disappointing direction, since we work from the belief that the transition from non-renewable to renewable feedstock is the first important objective. Regulation should help to increase the level of responsible thinking involved – not stop, or limit the demand.
What measures should be introduced by Europe to effectively drive the bioeconomy?
DSM feels that we need a) a more integral approach to the bio-economy from regulators (rather than one-sided thinking, either from energy, or agricultural, or environmental perspective) and b) measures that create a more level playing field for bio-based solutions versus their alternatives that are based on non-renewable feedstock. In this sense, we feel that Europe is severely lagging behind the USA and Brazil when it comes down to supportive policies and (consequential) market conditions.
Fortunately, however, DSM is not investing only in the U.S. or Brazil. It also does in Italy: in Cassano Spinola in the province of Alessandria, there is a plant of Reverdia, your joint venture with Roquette
Today the vast majority of chemical building blocks that go into making foods, resins, polymers and pharmaceuticals are derived from oil.
In a first significant step away from this model, DSM has partnered with Roquette, a leading French starch and starch-derivatives company, to produce bio-succinic acid, a key chemical building block that is made from plants rather than fossil carbon sources.
Bio-succinic acid, which is made from starch using an innovative enzyme-based fermentation technology, has environmental benefits in two respects: not only does it avoid the need for non-renewable hydrocarbon ingredients; it is also much less energy intensive to produce, requiring 40% less energy to make than conventional succinic acid.
Mario Bonaccorso