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The transition

In the initial phase of a transition, the time is ripe for direct and bold initiatives. Developments surge into all directions, some pathways turn out to be dead alleys and others turn out to be unexpectedly successful. Everyone mingles into the matter. Legislation and policy are challenged, for instance because existing laws stand in the way of new developments, or because new production paths must be opened up by subsidies, quota or other government regulations.

After some time, the contours of the new development become visible. There are rapidly growing winners and stagnating stay-behinds. A battle is raging on many fronts, like infrastructure. Reshuffling takes place, for instance when stay-behinds try to reclaim lost ground by incorporating small swift innovators. Legislation is adapted. And a while later, consolidation takes place, the new structures have become dominant.

We are in the start-up phase of this biobased society. There is conflict, for instance about import levies, and there is uncertainty. Existing legislation hampers useful deployment of side streams, which we used to call waste. Physical planning regulations stand in the way of construction of small-scale industries in the countryside. We do not know yet who will be the winners, even though we try to fathom developments as closely as possible. Each player will try to use trends for its benefit. A good strategic orientation is invaluable in this phase. And we reiterate: Europe is in an excellent position to play an important part in this development.

Active regions
Many players around the world (countries, corporations, start-ups, scientists) hold a keen view on the biobased economy. Among the leaders is France. Near Reims, in the middle of a large agricultural area (mainly cereals and sugar beet), a large research facility has been constructed, where all kinds of companies and research institutes investigate production of valuable substances from agricultural crops. Knowledge is the key word. Flanders, together with adjacent Dutch provinces Zeeland and Brabant, is another promising cluster. All across Germany and the Netherlands, regional businesses and research centres gather around the idea of the biobased economy to form new clusters.

Brazil embarks on another course. Over the last three decades, the production of bioethanol from sugar cane has been very successfully developed. Bioethanol is a fine motor fuel, and it is an excellent resource for the production of many chemicals and materials. Brazil now constructs industries for the production of bioplastics from agricultural waste and side streams of sugar production, identical to oil-based plastics (e.g. polyethylene), but from renewable resources and therefore receiving a premium price in the market. Production is the key word. Thailand has embarked on a similar course, on the basis of tapioca production and starch chemistry.

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