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Biobased chemicals: niche or growth market?

Energy transition

Rotterdam aims to be a front-runner in the energy transition. And alternatives to fossil-based chemical products play a key role in realising this ambition. Should we see biobased chemicals as a niche market or growth market? And how can we further develop the existing bio-based cluster? The Port of Rotterdam Authority presented these two questions to Lux Research Inc., which performed a study into biobased chemicals’ opportunities and options within Rotterdam’s cluster. They were also the focus of one of the workshops organised during the Energy in Transition Summit.

Energie Summit 2018 Workshop algemeen

“What we see is a growing demand among the end users of polymers like Ikea, Nike and Coca-Cola for renewable chemicals,” says Arnold Bos, who works as a consultant for Lux Research. “They aren’t just doing this to improve their image, or with an eye on increasing sustainability. They’re also preparing for the future. They want to hedge against rising oil prices and increase their options based on renewables.

In addition, you can see a shift towards performance. While initially, the focus was mainly on the ecological value of biobased chemicals, sometimes biobased chemicals are simply the better option. We can see a concrete demand developing for such products. The major chemical manufacturers are working on business cases for biobased chemicals. It may still be a small market, but it’s definitely moving.”

Opportunities for Rotterdam

Lux Research worked together with the Port of Rotterdam Authority on a Port Scan for biobased chemicals. This scan indicates that there are already a number of opportunities to promote this segment within Rotterdam’s industrial complex. “The biggest quick win will be the so-called ‘drop-in chemicals’. These products are identical to the chemicals already found within the cluster – except they’re being produced using biobased raw materials. Examples include methanol and ethylene. They can be used as a feedstock in existing chemical processes, making their introduction a relatively straightforward affair.”

Bottlenecks

“Although there are several bottlenecks. A major obstacle is the price difference between biobased chemicals and similar products from fossil sources. Among other things, this is due to the scale of the current petrochemical industry. One way to level the playing field is by introducing a higher CO2 surcharge, as advocated by Port Authority CEO Allard Castelein.”

When it comes to setting up the biobased cluster itself, there are even more hurdles to clear according to Bos. “It’s the sum of multiple parts. Sufficient feedstock, for instance; clients; a solid supply chain. Access to financing also often poses a problem. Investors aren’t too keen on the prospect of waiting 8 to 10 years before one of these investments starts paying off. A joint investment – similar to what we see with the new Waste-to-Chemicals plant – is an effective way to limit risks. In addition, it is important to have the right climate for developing and scaling up new technologies. The required knowledge about the various factors at play can already be found in the region. One way to make some real progress is by bringing all these parties together so that we can set to work on the different bottlenecks.”

Contact

The Port of Rotterdam Authority looks forward to getting in touch with interested parties and stakeholders. This way, we hope to jointly take advantage of opportunities and clear obstacles in the area of biobased chemicals. Please contact:

Stijn Effting
Business Manager Chemicals and Biobased Industry

Energy in transition

The Port of Rotterdam Authority is committed to combating climate change and wants to play a leading role in the global energy transition. The reduction of CO2 emissions and efficient use of raw and residual materials are important tasks for the Port Authority.

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