Biorefineries have a major role to play in tackling climate change, according to the World Economic Forum report The Future of Industrial Biorefineries launched on 29 June 2010. The report, produced in collaboration with Royal DSM N.V., Novozymes, DuPont and Braskem, says that the biorefineries industry could supplement demand for sustainable energy, chemicals and materials, aiding energy security. The report also acknowledges that a number of obstacles still stand in the way of biorefineries realizing their full economic potential.
The author of the report, Professor Sir David King, Director, Smith School for Enterprise and the Environment at the University of Oxford, says “The emerging biomass value chain will create significant business opportunities and new winners, with technology- and science-driven companies with access to key enzyme and microbial technologies being central to the development of the bio-based economy. The growth of the bio-based economy could create significant economic growth and job creation opportunities, particularly in rural areas, where incomes and economic prospects are currently moderate, and in advanced manufacturing.”
The report says that a biomass value chain could create revenue potentials by 2030 in US$ billion of 15 for agricultural inputs, 89 for biomass production, 30 for biomass trading, 10 for biorefining inputs, 80 for biorefining fuels, 6 for bioplastics and 65 for biomass power and heat.
The report identifies a number of technical, strategic and commercial challenges that need to be addressed before any large-scale commercialization of the biorefining industry can succeed. These include the need for significant advances in the development and deployment of bio-based technologies, infrastructure development, high capital costs and the issue of restricted land and biomass availability.
Biorefineries using biomass (plant/vegetable-based material) as feedstock would create a transition from fossil carbon to more sustainable bio-based production, says the report. This could fundamentally reshape the industrial landscape.
Feike Sijbesma, CEO Royal DSM N.V., says “We are at the doorstep of a transition to a greener, more sustainable future, with the bio-based economy as the key enabler. No company or government can drive this transition alone – public and private sectors have to work closely together. As innovation will be key in achieving this, the private sector needs to drive this with conviction and new open innovation concepts. At the same time, it offers governments worldwide a great opportunity, too, in which their help to create a positive framework with stimulating regulations and incentives to enable the private sector to accelerate its investments will be key. The transition to a bio-based economy offers a lot of opportunities to all stakeholders involved.”
Steen Riisgaard, President and CEO, Novozymes, adds: “The report confirms the need for biomass replacement that comes at oil’s low price, but without its high cost. Over time, our cars, our trucks, even our airplanes are going to run on low-carbon fuels derived from starch and cellulose. Plastics and chemicals will be made from plants rather than petroleum. Millions of new green tech jobs will be created in rural areas and in biorefineries, producing bioenergy and biomaterials.”
Bernardo Gradin, CEO, Braskem, is already moving on the concept and says, ““Biorefineries offer a new trail to Advanced Manufacturing – a third industrial revolution with new rural and geographical winners and a move towards a bio-based, lower CO2 emissions society. Braskem will open her first by October of this year.”
The report concludes that the development of the bio-based economy is at an early and high-risk stage and no single industry, or company, is cable of managing this phase of its development independently. Government, therefore, has a key role to play in providing seed support – particularly at the pre-competitive stage – to the emerging bio-based sector and creating the market to ensure that it becomes established and successful as quickly as possible.