Agriculture and nature management are increasingly linked to other economic sectors through the development of the biobased economy. Deploying green raw materials (biomass) as components in chemical products and in energy production opens a whole new world of possibilities for the use of biomass and the gradual replacement of fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas). But how do we guarantee food safety in such a biobased economy?
The new biobased production-consumption chains start with plant production of biomass in agriculture, horticulture and forestry, and with the organic waste released during agricultural production and nature management and in household waste.
These green raw materials can be processed into components for food, feed and biobased products (chemicals, materials and energy) through biorefinery. The attraction of this approach is that it makes use of as much of the plant as possible. Naturally, this requires that sufficient plant material always be available as green manure in order to maintain the quality of the soil.
Using biorefinery technology currently in development, the rich complex composition of biomass can be converted into a wide range of products. New biorefinery processes strive to use the complex (molecular) structures of biomass in the best possible way. The available functional compounds can then serve as chemical building blocks for semi-manufactured and end products. The main difference with petrochemical refinery is that molecular structures are not completely broken down to the simplest small molecules, which then need to be made functional again. In biorefinery, however, the functional groups remain intact, which saves energy and power consumption across the production process.
Wageningen UR provides an important contribution to the development of the biobased economy in an integrated manner. In this context, Wageningen UR cooperates with knowledge users, work on new custom crops, and develop new biorefinery process technologies together with industry. We also generate knowledge for use by policymakers and support the public debate with factual information. Our knowledge users are both governments and international companies in the chemical industry, materials production & processing, electricity & fuel production, and the agricultural, food and horticulture sectors.
Within the Biobased Economy research programme of Wageningen UR, the biorefinery concept connects the various biomass sources, conversion processes and chain development to the various applications. Biorefinery and biobased value chains are developed and applied at a local, regional, national and global scale. Wageningen UR charts the opportunities and barriers on each level and develops the technological knowledge required to achieve new biobased value chains. This knowledge development and the related opportunities and restrictions, are relevant to technology, logistics, process-related product development and the economy, as well as in the field of social embedding. Sustainability issues always play an important role and there is a necessity for extensive cycle closure in all cases [LINK 4: closing the chain].
The development of the biobased economy will be finalised through the production and sale of biobased products. This will ultimately occur via optimised cooperation between the production of food, feed, biobased chemicals, materials, biofuels and energy. This is why Wageningen UR’s R&D programme is focused on innovation and market implementation. Many scientific questions involving biorefinery, bio-based chemicals, materials & energy, specific crops and soil quality are relevant within this R&D programme. There are also issues related to economic knowledge: Economic feasibility and development of business cases, competing claims, changes in land use, and environmental issues such as the development of sustainability indicators, related greenhouse gas emissions and risk assessment for new biobased chains [LINK 2.1. policies]. In terms of food production, economic development constitutes an important issue. While food and feed have a high value in the sustainable biobased value chain, there is also a large and growing market for other biobased applications. It is necessary to ensure that sufficient biomass is produced and available for food. The task for agricultural and horticultural producers is to realise a level of production of a sufficiently sustainable and high quality to satisfy current and future food needs. At the same time,
the sector faces the challenge of optimising the production of biomass to allow the greening of the fossil fuel economy. Wageningen UR supports this process, among other things as a co-developer of production in integrated biorefinery concepts, where non-edible components and residues, as well as algae [LINK 220.127.116.11 Algae] are processed into quality products in chemicals, materials and energy production.