18 Oct Industrial Biomass: Source of Chemicals, Materials, and Energy!

Belgium Academies (ARB)

Biomass seemed a very promising resource for substituting fossil hydrocarbons as a renewable source of energy and as a sustainable raw material for various industrial sectors. However, during the first decade of the 21st century, competition between the use of biomass for food and feed on the one hand, and for energy and industrial applications on the other hand, became a big issue. Dramatic food price rises in the first half of 2008 were blamed to the use of arable land for the production of first generation biofuels at the expense of food and feed.
On purpose, the present report of the BACAS working group does not focus on the food and feed issue, but examines thoroughly the implications and limitations of the use of non- food (industrial ) biomass as a source of chemicals, materials and energy. For its analysis, the BACAS report started from the widely accepted “5 F-cascade”, a list of priorities regarding the use of biomass:
1.    Food and feed
2.    Fine and bulk chemicals and pharma
3.    Fibre and biomaterials
4.    Fuels and energy
5.    Fertilisers and soil conditioners
The authors have covered the impact of an increasing use of industrial (or technical) biomass as a renewable resource for various industrial sectors and for power generation. The use of biomass as a renewable primary energy source will be of key importance for achieving the 20/20/20 targets of the European Union, i.e. use of at least 20% of renewables for energy production, 20% less greenhouse gas emissions and 20% more efficient energy use by the year 2020: biomass is expected to provide 2/3 of the renewable energy target by 2020.
The report starts with an overview of state-of-the-art processes and technologies for converting industrial biomass. Next, it focuses on the 5 F-cascade of applications of biomass and on the legislation affecting the bio-based economy. Finally a number of recommendations are formulated meant for government, industry, research and development agencies.
The EU’s common agricultural policy (CAP) should develop an integrated policy for the bio-based economy, including the removal of still existing trade barriers, a scientifically substantiated policy with regard to genetically modified crops and sustainability criteria.
The public and private scientific communities are urged to set up public-private partnerships in order to support coordinated research programs, in particular with regard to feedstock yields and biomass optimization in view of maximizing the efficiency of processes converting biomass into energy or industrial products.

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