From a technical point of view, it is becoming increasingly easy to substitute fossil resources with renewable resources. Using a multidisciplinary approach, Wageningen University & Research works with companies on the transition from fossil to green sources. This work ranges from identifying and researching the application of new materials and processes to developing a chain and investigating social and economic aspects of this energy transition.
For instance, researchers at Wageningen work with sugar producers and chemical companies to use sugar-rich biomass to create plastics, glues, coatings, cosmetics and other products. The residue from sugar beets can be used to make robust, flexible and water-tight bioplastic, which can then be used to make bottles and other products to replace oil-based PET bottles.
Jacco van Haveren, programme manager for Biobased Chemicals at Wageningen, explains the process in this video:
The abolition of the sugar quota in the EU came into effect at the beginning of this year. Just like in the case of milk, there will be no production ceiling applied to sugar. Although it is still uncertain how the price of sugar beet and sugar beet production will respond to this, the change could offer opportunities for sugar-based bioplastics, such as bottles made from sugar beet pulp. A growth in the sugar beet cultivation area will potentially offer more scope for the use of building bricks made from sugar beet in the chemical industry. That said, the European sugar market could be confronted with a surplus of sugar, bringing down the price of sugar beets to too low a level to ensure profitable cultivation for some arable farmers. This may impede developments in the chemical industry that are aimed at replacing fossil resources with renewable resources.
While the Dutch government issues grants to stimulate the production of renewable energy, it does not issue these to encourage the production of materials based on renewable resources. ‘Dutch policy is heavily focused on achieving the goals in the Energieakkoord (the Dutch Energy Agreement for Sustainable Growth),’ says Harriëtte Bos, researcher in biobased products at Wageningen. A publication by Bos and colleagues back in 2011 showed the opportunities for the chemical industry in achieving reductions in CO2 emissions by transitioning from oil-based resources to sugars as resources. In 2014, she and colleagues worked together to list crops, processes and policy relating to sugar as a raw material for the Dutch chemical industry.
Wageningen is conducting a great deal of research into biobased products based on biorefinery, a process that involves using biomass ingredients to make products and generate energy. Examples of this include using algae as food for humans and animals, or research into using dandelions to make rubber.
If you are looking to expand your knowledge on biobased subjects, Wageningen has developed five free, flexible and English-taught MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Courses). Together, they form the MicroMaster in Biobased Sciences. This online class can be followed as a preliminary course to, or a component of, the master's programme in Biobased Sciences that starts in 2018.