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Biobased Acceleration Day in Zeeland

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Biobased Acceleration Day in Zeeland

Everyone wants biobased raw materials

Biobased raw materials are already here, and they are advancing. In the building industry in particular, it has long been unnecessary to work with fossil, environmentally damaging materials that are also beginning to become scarce. The Biobased Innovation Garden knows that better than anyone. Since 2014, they have been working in Colijnsplaat in Zeeland on the cultivation and application of vegetable materials: from flax to tobacco, from cotton to Russian dandelions. And yet they are not yet finding their way into products on a massive scale. The real breakthrough is still awaiting. That is why Biobased Innovation Garden organised the Biobased Acceleration Day on 5 July at the Rusthoeve Agricultural Innovation and Knowledge Centre. The central question: how do we get the biobased market moving?

Some 150 people visited the beautifully situated experimental farm on the Oosterschelde estuary. On a bright and sunny day, they walked with a guide through the fields with promising crops such as bamboo, miscanthus, hemp or flax. They networked, listened to inspiring key-notes and participated in lively workshops on construction and chemistry. An extensive expo (the so-called ‘Versnellingsplein’) showed a selection of biobased materials that are already ready for the market.

The ‘incubator of new ideas’, is how Cor van Oers (manager Delphy and project leader Biobased Innovation Garden) calls it. But there is still much to do. If you go to the hardware store because you want to insulate your house, you will find all sorts of solutions, but no biobased insulation boards. If you buy a pot of water-based paint, you get plastic stirring rods. In the wardrobe, with a bit of good will, you can find textiles made from natural raw materials, such as wool and cotton, but they are chock-full of fossil-based additives, such as softeners, flame retardants and dyes.

“When I look at the Acceleration Square, I already see many alternatives. We just need to get them into the shops. It just has to be done a bit faster,” says Van Oers. According to him, the arable farmers play a key role in this. “Without large-scale vegetable production, they will never succeed. But there will have to be good prices in return: “at least the yield of winter wheat.”

Biobased chemistry

It is crucial to start scaling up innovations and creating new, innovative chains now, argued Willem Sederel, chairman of Circular Biobased Delta (CBBD). The transition to the use of more circular and bio-based raw materials is in fact badly needed to realise the ambition of reducing CO2 emissions by 10 megatons in the Southern Netherlands (the area covered by the CBBD) by 2030, through concrete projects. The German nova Institute has calculated that worldwide 450 billion tonnes of carbon are used annually for chemicals and materials, the vast majority of which is of fossil origin. That can only be replaced by combining chemical recycling (especially gasification and pyrolysis) of waste plastics with the use of agricultural crops for e.g. sugars, glycerol, fats, lignin and biogas.

“I personally think that biobased will play a much more important role in chemistry than it does now, especially because achieving sufficient CO2 reduction with chemical recycling alone is not that simple,” says Sederel. The CBBD is therefore investing heavily in interesting programmes for the development of products from biorefinery, for example chemical building blocks from sugars (Sugar Delta, Biorizon) and bio-asphalt with lignin (CHAPLIN). For the latter project, there are already more than 25 test surfaces in Zeeland alone with bio-asphalt in various compositions.

Rebuilding refineries

One company that is already investing fully and on a large scale in the biobased transition is Neste, the Finnish oil company that started in 1948 with heavily contaminated crude oil from Russia as its only raw material. Out of necessity, it developed innovative cleaning techniques. Neste was the first oil refinery in the world to produce lead-free petrol, and is now known for its sustainable fuels (renewable diesel, jet fuel) based on biobased residues, such as waste oils and fats from the food industry. And with success. In addition to two refineries in Finland, the company also has large production sites for biodiesel in Rotterdam and Singapore. The capacity of the latter two plants is being doubled: an investment totalling €3.3 billion. In California (US), Neste is also converting a complete traditional refinery to biobased, together with Marathon Petroleum; another investment of almost €1 billion.

“We do that for several parties worldwide, explained Frank Hendrickx, head of Feedstock & Production Platform Chemical Recycling at Neste during the Biobased Acceleration Day. “We are starting to supply the global petrochemical industry with renewable raw materials for new plastics and chemicals. Because demand is huge and will already double by 2040 compared to 2016. Everyone wants those raw materials. So we do need to move to a circular system, where we no longer take carbon out of the ground.”

Neste therefore sees the chemical recycling of waste plastics as part of the solution. To this end, together with Belgian polymer recycler Ravago, the company is building a plant for the thermochemical liquefaction of mixed waste plastics in the port of Vlissingen (part of North Sea Port); initially good for 55,000 tonnes of plastics per year, but by 2030 with an annual capacity of 200,000 tonnes.

Sticking out one’s neck

In a number of workshops, participants in the Acceleration Day could discuss the developments and challenges in the construction sector and the chemical industry. One pressing question came to the fore: why doesn’t the (central) government take bigger and quicker steps to stimulate the market, for instance by offering financial support and making the use of more sustainable raw materials obligatory? A visionless government that puts the hot potato off until the next government term seems to be the answer. As a result, suppliers and service providers in the biobased field are dependent on ambitious frontrunners who dare to stick their necks out.

One such frontrunner with guts is meteorologist and ‘weatherman’ Gerrit Hiemstra, who spoke in the afternoon session, presented by Jo-Annes de Bat, member of the Zeeland Provincial Executive. Hiemstra decided to build a climate-neutral bio-based family home in the municipality of De Friese Meren in 2019. Finding an architect and a construction company that had experience with biobased building was already a challenge. It was also an unknown process for the municipality. In the end, the house was completed after three years.

Afterwards, Hiemstra recommended: “Just do it,” because it provides a comfortable house in which only minimal energy is needed for heating and cooling. He did add, however, that it is necessary for the government to steer biobased construction, by setting standards, but also by taking the lead: “For instance, by setting requirements for the materials with which a new neighbourhood may be built. Future residents should be well informed about what they can expect, because “there is still too much uncertainty at the moment.” Standardisation and professionalisation are also necessary: “It is still too much of a niche, not enough has crystallised yet. A lot still needs to happen in the chain.”

This was also evident in the following panel discussion. Martijn van Sabbe, managing director of Bouwbedrijf Fraanje, noted that bio-based construction is still somewhat more expensive than traditional construction. Gerrit Hiemstra estimates that his house was 10 percent more expensive. “We have to make biobased building affordable for everyone,” says Van Sabbe. “We can only do that by working together, sharing knowledge together and scaling up.”

According to André Hogendijk, director of BO Akkerbouw, it is indeed necessary to make bio-based construction not the exception, but the standard. He sees this as an interesting opportunity for farmers to add value to extensive cultivation. “It would be good to include hemp, flax and elephant grass in existing building plans, for example. That is good for the soil and for biodiversity. But then the farmer has to be able to earn something from it. We would like to create new chains for that, regionally or nationally.”

Such new crops also make it possible to sequester carbon for a longer period of time, and that can provide the farmer with a modest extra source of income via ‘carbon credits’ in addition to the normal yield from the harvest, Teun Wiebold of aESTI told us.

There are plenty of opportunities. Taco Tuinhof, architect at Rothuizen Architects and Advisors, also thinks there are opportunities in serial construction. For example, a Woongroep Middelburg is going to renovate thousands of homes with glass wool and rock wool, when it could just as easily be done with flax or hemp. Moreover, I would like to transform a number of sad and industrial looking buildings with biobased materials. Because I think it can be much more inspiring!

The Biobased Acceleration Day was made possible by Circular Biobased Delta, Uitvoeringsbureau Biobased Zeeland, AIKC Rusthoeve, Delphy, BO Akkerbouw and the provinces of Zeeland and Noord-Brabant.

Interested in the presentations? Please contact:

See also the website of Biobased Innovations Garden: