March 2015 has been an interesting month for agriculture. It seems that an increasing number of companies are currently looking into valorisation possibilities of agricultural waste streams (e.g. production of biobased chemicals and materials). Only in the last week, 4 different meetings with 4 different companies were held, all focusing on biobased production from agricultural waste materials. Interesting products were polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB), methanol, hydrogen, butanol, polylactate (PLA), et cetera. It has been like this for the last month: every week, new projects are discussed and started. It is not only a trend at universities (we have seen that for a while now), but SME’s as well as larger companies come up with interesting developing plans. If I’m not mistaking, this will bring a whole new purpose for agricultural production. It might even be an opportunity for agriculture in developing countries to develop faster, as waste materials also gains more value.
In the first week of March, while our team received guests from Canada for more than a week (they were here for the market introduction of biobased, non-toxic and biodegradable lubricants and paint removers), a chemical giant BASF announced their commercial production of polytetrahydrofuran (polyTHF) derived entirely from biomass feedstocks. The process hinges on a microbial fermentation of sugars to produce 1,4-butanediol (BDO), which is purified and polymerized. The company uses genetically engineered bacteria to produce and excrete BDO in sufficient quantity and purity. [GMO? Really? Yes. The modified bacteria are separated from the liquid containing the chemical. After purification, no bacteria is present anymore in the product. This way of processing is used in the chemical industries for quite some time now].
PolyTHF is primarily used as a component in polyester and polyurethane materials. According to BASF, the bio-based PolyTHF is identical in quality to the petrochemical-based product. The product is mainly applied as a chemical building block for thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), which is used to make for example parts of ski boots and cable sheathing. Other applications include cast elastomers, which are used, for example, for the production of wheels for skateboards and inline skates. According to BASF, the opportunity to expand the range of products and applications made from renewable raw materials allows them and their partners to further explore the long-term market acceptance of this biobased technology.
In the second week of March, in the Dutch province of Limburg, Letters of Intent were signed between a number of SMEs that intent to collaborate with each other in terms of raw materials and waste products. Fermentation of agricultural and food processing waste was also recognized as a possibility for valorization of these streams or reduction of costs.
The collaboration between the companies takes place in the context of the SILVER project, using a methodology that aims to accelerate innovation in the industry. SILVER stands for: Symbiosis in Limburg and Accelerating Realization. The process is in principle very simple: companies from all sectors are brought together in informal workshops with the aim of sharing as much information as possible about raw materials, waste, energy, services, knowledge and other innovative ideas. This provides new forms of cooperation between businesses and institutions.
The basic idea is simple: to use raw materials and waste products/residual streams that are produced within a company as smart and responsible as possible (and working together on this issue with other entrepreneurs). This will not only contribute to a sustainable future, but also increases profits. Innovation is the foundation for growth: over the past year and a half, the SILVER partnerships already yielded over 5 million in savings. The project started in 2013 and already 70 companies have signed up. A recent workshop floor was good for a whopping 298 matches. Team members of www.biobased-business.eu are helping the participants to find solutions for the many hurdles they encounter.
Last week, I saw the same kind of opportunities during those 4 meetings. Locals are working with locals on efficient production of food, feed, chemicals, fuels, energy and biomaterials. This should result in more profitable production chains. I wonder how long it will take before the first benefits of more profitable production chains will start to show an increase of efficient food/energy production in the countries that really need it… don’t you?
The six finalists of the Bio-based Material of the Year award, presented by the nova-Institute for Ecology and Innovation to those developing new applications and markets for bio-based products (those derived from living organisms), have been named.
The competition focuses on new developments in these areas, which have had (or will have) a market launch in 2014 or 2015.
Six candidates from companies in the United Kingdom, the United States and Germany have been chosen by a jury consisting of representatives of the nova-Institute, the advisory board, and sponsors and partners of the International Conference on Bio-based Materials (which will be held in Cologne between 13-15 April) from 24 submissions, and one winner and two runners up will go on to be awarded a certificate and receive a directory listing on the nova-Institute website.
The six nominated companies and products are:
A bio-based polyurethane (made from polyisocyanate based on pentamethylene diisocyanate) cross-linker for high-performance automotive coatings. It enables the production of bio-based polyurethanes for the coating of cars, providing weather resistance, the ‘self-healing’ of superficial scratches and ‘great optical properties’.
A bio-sourced composite for aircraft applications. The lightweight, fast-curing composite is made from flax, basalt yarns, and sugar-based bioresin and is suitable for aircraft and rail applications and will go into production this year in a lightweight galley cart.
A bio-based polyamide 12 made from kernel oil 12 – This material can be used in high-performance products such as motor vehicles and large-volume pipes.
A hemp-based reinforced plastic. The granulate can be used in injection moulding for a range of applications, including those in the automotive sector.
A bio-derived spandex made using renewable butanediol. Approximately 70 per cent comes from the renewable resource meaning fabrics and garments can be made with reduced carbon and fossil fuel footprints.
A biodegradable polymer based on lignin. The biopolymer compound has optic and haptic properties and can be used for 3D printing.
Each of the six companies will now give a short presentation at the International Conference on Bio-based Materials, and the three winners will be decided by a vote of those attending the conference.
Biomass costs would be lower than those of most fossil energy sources in most countries of the world. A recent IRENA report reveals how technologies are reaching grid parity.
The cost-competitiveness of renewable power generation technologies has reached historic levels. Biomass for power, hydropower, geothermal and onshore wind can all now provide electricity competitively compared to fossil fuel-fired power generation.
LCOEs (levelised cost of electricity) of the more mature renewable power generation technologies – biomass for power, geothermal and hydropower – have been broadly stable since 2010. However, where untapped, economic resources remain, these mature technologies can provide some of the cheapest electricity of any source.
Regional, weighted average costs of electricity from biomass for power, geothermal, hydropower and onshore wind are all now in the range, or even span a lower range, than estimated fossil fuel-fired electricity generation costs. Because of striking LCOE reductions, solar PV costs also increasingly fall within that range.
Chemical giant BASF has begun commercial production of polytetrahydrofuran (polyTHF) derived entirely from biomass feedstocks. The process hinges on a microbial fermentation of sugars to produce 1,4-butanediol (BDO), which is then purified and polymerised.
BASF has licensed the BDO fermentation process from biotech specialist Genomatica, which genetically engineered the bacteria to produce and excrete BDO in sufficient quantity and purity.
PolyTHF is primarily used as a component in polyester and polyurethane materials.
“The bio-based PolyTHF 1000 is identical in quality to the petrochemical-based product.” To say it is Andrej Brejc, director Renewable Diols from BASF’s Intermediates division (sales to third parties of about 2.8 billion euro in 2014), which has made bio-based Polytetrahydrofuran 1000 (PolyTHF® 1000) available for the first time. The chemical company headquartered in Ludwigshafen is now providing this intermediate to selected partners for testing various applications in a large scale.
According to Brejc, “the opportunity to expand the range of products and applications made from renewable raw materials allows us and our partners to further explore the long-term market acceptance of this innovative technology.”
BASF is the world’s leading provider of PolyTHF, which is primarily used to make elastic spandex fibers for a large variety of textiles, including underwear, outerwear, sportswear and swimsuits. PolyTHF 1000 is mainly applied as a chemical building block for thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), which is used to make for example parts of ski boots and skates, shoe soles and instrument panel skin for automotive applications as well as hoses, films and cable sheathing.
It is also used as a component of thermoplastic polyetheresters and polyetheramides. Other applications include cast elastomers, which are used, for example, for the production of wheels for skateboards and inline skates.