Logistics in the biobased society

It goes without saying that the biobased economy will produce major changes in society. Yet, many people do not realise to what an extent – eventually, the biobased economy will produce another society, a biobased society. Logistics is a fine example. Today, crude oil tankers make up for the biggest logistical movements around the globe, but in say 50 years, these movements will consist of biomass. Although, truly?

With today’s patterns in mind, we might think that ‘tankers’ containing biomass will sail across the world, biomass which industrial countries might process to biofuels. But more likely, biomass producing countries will perform the first processing steps themselves, causing much smaller international transport flows. Indeed, ethanol tankers sail from Brazil to Europe already. Moreover, why would we still use biofuels in large quantities? By that time, the energy problem might well have been solved in a completely different way.

Possible fuel shortages are today’s problem. Just keep in mind the US which concentrates on second generation biofuels (thanks to DSM). Right now, it is useful to take a logistical view of biofuels (and of the USA), but we should keep in mind that these flows might, and will, change dramatically.

Smaller international transport flows
Suppose the energy problem being solved in 2050, and international trade (primarily made up of biofuels and intermediate products from simple biorefinery operations) being reduced, this could pave the way to solve biobased society’s real problem: to supply society with chemical products from biomass. Meanwhile keeping in mind that chemicals and materials, compared to energy supply, need much less feedstock (either crude oil or biomass).

Small-scale production will become more important because of a much stronger link between chemistry and agriculture. Given new technology, these two worlds might match perfectly. Leading to much less long-range transport, and an increase in local transport along much smaller distances. This does not merely affect logistics, which will become more regional in nature; it will also stimulate farming for the regional market, and regional small and medium sized enterprises.

Small-scale production and a stronger regional focus, both in agriculture and industry, and in world-wide transport patterns, would seem to be the concepts central to a biobased society in the decades to come.

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