Report provides overview of European biobased economy

By Erin Voegele | February 25, 2015

A recent report published by the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service’s Global Information Network provides an overview of the EU biobased economy and estimated biomass requirements for the production of biofuels, bioplastics, biochemicals and biopharmaceuticals.

According to the GAIN report, the EU currently uses approximately 32 million metric tons of biomass to produce liquid biofuels. That volume is expected to increase to 48 million metric tons by 2020. The EU also has significant demand for solid biofuels. The region is currently the world’s largest market for wood pellets, with approximately 17.5 million metric tons of consumed in 2013. Demand for pellets is expected to increase to 20 million metric tons this year, with consumption projected to grow to as much 50 to 80 million metric tons by 2020.

Biomass feedstocks also have potential for bioplastic and biochemical production. The report indicates approximately 34 million metric tons of biomass would be needed to replace 20 percent of petroleum-based chemicals and materials in 2020. To replace 30 percent of those chemicals and materials with biomass in 2030, an estimated 50 million metric tons of biomass feedstock would be needed. Under that scenario, the report shows 18 million metric tons of biobased polymers and 17 million metric tons of intermediate chemicals would be produced.

According to the report, the EU currently produces approximately 320,000 metric tons of biobased polymers, primarily from starch blends. That volume is expected to increase to 1.2 million metric tons by 2020, with the biggest share for starch blends, polyethylene terephthalate (PET), and polylactic acid (PLA).

The report also provides a description of the Horizon 2020 program, which is a program through which the European Commission funds biorefinery research and commercialization. The program has a budget of €80 billion ($90.69 billion) for the period 2014-2020. As part of the Horizon 2020 program, the Public-Private Partnership on Bio-based Industries came into force in late June. The PPP is a joint undertaking between the EU and the Bio-based Industries Consortium, which has 70 industrial members and more than 100 related organizations. The goal of the program is to convert biomass into common consumer products through innovative biorefinery technologies. The budget of the PPP program is nearly €3.7 million. It aims to replace at least 20 percent of petroleum-based chemicals and materials with biobased and biodegradables ones by 2020, increasing to 30 percent by 2030.

In addition, the GAIN report discusses potential for transatlantic cooperation in developing a bioeconomy, noting full potential can only be realized with the exchange of resources. According to the document, further development of the biobased economy depends on strategic partnerships at either the technical level or vertically through the biomass supply chain. One example of cooperation offered in the report is the joint venture between U.S.-based Poet LLC and Netherlands-based Royal DSM. The Poet-DSM Advanced Biofuels joint venture recently commenced cellulosic ethanol production at Project Liberty, a 25 MMgy facility located in Emmetsburg, Iowa. The report also notes EU-based universities and private companies have developed a range of conversion technologies that could be applied in other continents. Regarding cooperation within the biomass supply chain, the report specifies that the EU bioeconomy, which already sources a significant portion of wood pellets from the U.S., could benefit by sourcing pelletized agricultural residues and byproducts from the corn refining industry from North America.

A full copy of the report can be downloaded from the USDA FAS GAIN website.