Among the major technological changes of our age (ICT, miniaturization etc.), the greening of chemistry will probably be one of the most far-reaching in social respect. Smoke coming out of tall chimneys at chemical factories was once hailed as a hallmark of prosperity – later it was condemned as a token of environmental damage. But now chemistry, going from petro to agro, is evolving at such a speed that in several decades’ time chemical industry will be environmentally benign and perfectly sustainable. It might fit nicely in the countryside next to farms that supply their green feedstock, processing them into materials for dazzling new applications.
This website will testify to that development. It will challenge prevailing wisdom and highlight new developments. It will not only report facts, but also provide analysis and comments. It will cover not only the new value chains that emerge (from agriculture through biobased plastics to medical applications and organic solar cells), but also the cultural, social and political developments that promote, hamper or evolve from them.
Chemistry meets agro
At the heart of the evolving biobased society are agriculture and chemistry, which will draw ever closer and eventually integrate completely. In the future, agriculture will not only provide food but also feedstock for biobased materials – and often in the same crop. At present, agriculture already provides much more than food: timber, fibers for clothing and paper, fragrance, and flowers. In the biobased society, green chemistry and its corollaries like biorefinery and white (industrial) biotechnology, will produce a wide range of products, from medicine to plastics. Moreover these substances, now mostly produced from crude oil, will be vastly improved and become much more sustainable. We stress that energy production will not be a major goal of future agriculture as we see it. The energy sector is much too large for that. What is more, wind and especially solar energy are developing at a much higher speed than expected even in recent plans. But for some time to come in some countries energy will prove to be a useful by-product of the processing of agricultural crops.
We foresee major cultural, social and political effects of this technological development. The biobased economy will provide a new income to the farmer and redirect industry. Agriculture will once more move to the heart of the economy. Economic models will have to be revised, and sustainability will become a major political concern. The economy will produce no more waste, all waste streams will be processed into new products. Innovation policy will have to be reformulated to provide opportunities for SME’s that wish to develop biobased products. Legislation, finance and governance will have to go to great lengths to come to grips with the new realities. Art and architecture will be dazzled with opportunities created by new sustainable materials. Medicine will discover completely new fields. Europe will regionalize – to a much larger extent than nowadays, regions will be self-sufficient – and a new regional self-esteem might develop. Each region will develop its own strengths, dependent on crops and geographical position. There may come a time when goods traffic will no longer increase: prosperity will be more dependent on knowledge than on transport.
Toward a European green economy
The scientific basis for this revolution has evolved in the last few decades; industrial applications have developed since the 1990s. The greening of the economy has now made a take-off. But the general public is largely unaware of the major economic and environmental opportunities of this development, and the social changes it might entail. We think that the public should be informed, not merely by websites and publications that mirror the interests of the major players, but also by independent journalists like ourselves, who can view events from a different perspective and highlight problems at hand. And see ourselves as Europeans, and we regard the biobased society as Europe’s major future development model.
We should like to testify to these new developments, and accompany them with our intelligence and wit.