Over the years I have been invited to a number of conferences and meetings to speak about the biobased economy. Or, to be more precise, its major potential as a pillar of sustainable growth. To me, the connection between the two is self-evident, but other people are occasionally surprised. They don’t expect someone who has a long history in the fossil fuel industry to promote a move towards biobased. I challenge them to change their perspective.
Even as a student at the Delft Institute of Technology – currently known as the University of Technology – I learned that you need to adapt your ideas to the facts and not the other way round. This became a basic guideline for me and has served me well throughout my career. When you are able to adapt to change, you create new room for dynamism and leadership.
If you change your perspective, you discover major opportunities for the creation of a biobased economy. But, an economy like this won’t develop of its own accord: it requires stable and stimulating government policies, without too much regulation, so that the market can do its job. And we need to be in it for the long haul to develop fruitful partnerships and to compete with countries like the US, Canada, China and Brazil. Companies need to seek out collaborations and establish new connections – for example between the agricultural and chemical industries, or between food and energy. Collaborations between the SME sector and larger companies can be particularly productive, since smaller firms are often more innovative, while major players can help to scale up the venture.
Another issue we need to focus on is increasing the value of residual flows, in order to utilise biomass at the highest possible level. Ultimately, I believe biorefining offers a wide range of opportunities – yielding ‘multi output’ for the chemical and fuel industries, as well as residual products that can be used to generate energy. To this end, we need to have the right biomass in sufficient volumes. At all times, we need to ensure that biomass comes from sources that are guaranteed in terms of sustainability.
Of course, this can’t be achieved overnight. But when you want to travel from A to B, the only way to get there is by taking the next step. A number of these steps have already been taken in the port of Rotterdam. During the construction of Maasvlakte 2, planners reserved 80 ha for the future locations of biobased companies. The ‘Rotterdam Bioport’ programme integrates three ways in which to utilise biomass: as a source of energy, as a base for transport fuels and as a raw material for the chemical industry. These three approaches all offer substantial economic opportunities. It is up to us to connect these different worlds. And in my opinion, Rotterdam could very well be the best location in the world to launch and build up the European biobased economy.
This is our shared challenge. Unfortunately, when talking about the biobased economy, people tend to think in antitheses. Food versus fuel. Green versus grey. Energy versus chemicals. However, these areas aren’t actually in competition with one another. The biobased economy will allow us to both strengthen the Netherlands’ energy and chemical sectors and raise their level of sustainability. That is why I call on you to change your perspective, to develop your ability to adapt your ideas to new facts and to grasp the considerable opportunities offered by the biobased economy.
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