Insecurity seems to pervade our world. World economy is at risk. Society will have to embark on a new course. Technology and agriculture should become the focal points of a new and sustainable economy, leading to a completely new design of our economy and our society. No longer deplete the earth, but use smart technology and materials to deploy our resources in a sustainable way.
Europe’s financial system is in a shambles, a resource crisis seems to be imminent, oil production peaks, powers which formerly were Europe’s colonies threaten to overpower it, presently we will have to feed one and an half times as many people, and the level of trust of consumers and citizens appears to have hit an all-time low. There seems to be a general conviction that the economy will have to change course, and the question is: how?
We propose that the answer will be to redesign our economy to criteria of sustainability. This would have many implications for economy and society. It would mean use of all waste materials which so far we discarded carelessly; it would mean an industry on the basis of renewable, mostly green resources. And in spite of a general feeling of insecurity about our economic capabilities, European industry is ready to make head start on this new road. European research institutes are quite willing to develop and supply the required knowledge base. European industry is relatively well suited to embark on this course. We call it the biobased economy. We will show that this will affect many areas of society – eventually we will speak of the biobased society.
A biobased economy is an economy which for a large proportion draws its resources from living nature (biomass, ‘green resources’), as an integral part of a green or sustainable economy. A highly developed biobased economy uses biobased resources primarily for the production of chemicals and materials, and for energy as a side product, in such a way that competition with food supply will be minimised. In the present initial phase of the biobased economy, the relationship between energy and materials still is the other way round: the bulk of biomass is used for energy production. In the course of time, the proportion of biomass for chemistry will increase, because the energy problem will be solved in other sustainable ways.
In a biobased economy, many agricultural products will be industrially processed into materials and energy. There is nothing new to that: paper and pulp industries have done so for centuries; cotton and linen are as old as mankind; most fragrance is biobased; since the 19th century potato starch is widely used as an industrial resource. Why then is the biobased economy a new cry, often linked to both new economic activity and sustainability?