In the past few decades, many developments in Europe have been propelled by CO2 legislation. Major investments have been made for factories which process biomass into bioethanol and biodiesel. Coal-fired power stations are fitted with facilities to fire large quantities of biomass, again in order to mitigate CO2 emissions. But policy is always on the move. Criticism is mounting on biofuels and electricity production from biomass. Industry asks for policy for stimulation of biobased materials. The ‘field’ evolves incessantly.
In that field, Europe will have to make its choices. And within Europe, each region will have to do so. For the biobased economy may look completely different in different regions, on the basis of regional agricultural and chemical potentials. Smart choices require excellent analyses of regional strengths. Which crops dominate? How far has regional chemical industry developed? Which scientific knowledge base is easily accessible? How is the support for regional small and medium sized enterprises? Do innovative farmers have enough elbow room? Is local government involved, and is it set on the road to help overcome swiftly any obstacles to a biobased economy? Do regional stakeholders have a sense of community? Do they realise that the need one another, that chemistry needs agro and logistics, just like agro needs chemistry and logistics, and logistics need the other pair? If multiple pathways are embarked on, is there a point in which they converge? Do stakeholders know in which time frame they may expect results, in order to prevent disappointments during a long preparatory period? And will the biobased economy in effect stimulate rural development?
Having all posed all these questions, stakeholders can embark on drawing a roadmap. Europe has published such a roadmap: the Bioeconomic Strategy, dated February 2012. But this roadmap does not meet general support yet, and requires elaboration. Several member states have published strategic plans of their own. Important regions already execute their plans. Europe buzzes with initiative. The biobased economy is an attractive perspective.
Courtesy NOM, development agency for the Dutch Northern provinces