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Insight & Intelligence™ : Mar 3, 2014

The Emerging Bioeconomy: Industrial Drivers, Global Impact, and International Strategies

More and more regions and representative groups are developing strategies for growing their biobased industries into global value chains.
  • Manfred Kircher


The continued development of the bioeconomy is expected to transform all segments of the chemical industry, from bulk to fine chemistry. About 10% of the current chemical feedstock base consists of renewable materials such as sugar, starch, cellulose, oils, and fats, but more non-food biomass resources need to be exploited as biobased production becomes more significant in the bulk sectors. Growing demand for feedstocks based on agricultural, silvicultural, and marine sources will increasingly shift global value chains from fossil-rich to biomass-rich countries, but how quickly this will happen depends very much on the cost-competitiveness of the various biomass-based versus fossil-based raw materials. The high costs associated with biomass logistics have been a key limiting factor for biorefinery investments. The best way to integrate mid-sized biorefineries into the established, large-scale chemical infrastructure is also a key challenge. Nonetheless, more and more regions and representative groups such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) are recognizing the bioeconomy's economic potential and are developing strategies for growing their biobased industries into global value chains.


The bioeconomy has two main drivers: protection of the climate, especially by reducing the emission of greenhouse gases (GHG); and the foreseeable shift from fossil-based to renewable feedstocks. Biomass is widely accepted as the only sustainable alternative to fossil carbon sources and the starting point for developing production processes that can be characterized as having a low, or even zero, carbon footprint.

The development of the bioeconomy faces a number of hurdles. Although processing and transformation of agricultural and silvicultural biomass to chemicals and fuels is established, the feedstock base of these industries is still dominated by fossil carbon sources. However, the transition into the bioeconomy is also an opportunity to build new cross-sectorial value chains linking intercontinental biomass regions and industrial centers. The bioeconomy's technical and product innovation requirements also create market opportunities for research institutes and companies of all sizes. The European chemical industry, which is highly involved in the bioeconomy, divides the bioeconomy's implications into three areas: access to renewable feedstock; innovation; and generation of market-driven demand.1

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