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Breakthrough primary bio-based chemicals without significant fossil-based counterparts but with high marketability


Demonstrate a production process for bio-based chemicals with no significant fossil-based counterparts, originating from sustainably sourced biomass of European origin and demonstrate one application in the market at pre-commercial level.

Proposals should demonstrate a production route for at least one bio-based chemical building block that does not have a ‘significant’ fossil-based counterpart and show its market potential by means of at least one application.

Biotechnological, thermo- and chemo-catalytic processes are within the scope of this topic. The processes should ensure techno-economic competitive routes. This will efficiently pave the way to a further scale-up of the developed process(es) to enable an expanding market entrance for products based on the breakthrough chemical.

Proposals should justify the selection of the targeted molecule(s) and validate the full value chain. Proposals should demonstrate that the resulting products have a high market pull and that the operation is economically and environmentally sustainable. Furthermore, proposals should provide appropriate business models. Proposals should also show the feasible, sustainable and economic supply of European biomass for these applications via the primary building block. Proposals should also deliver a preliminary economic feasibility study, providing the basis for upscaling the technology to commercial level.

The Technology Readiness Level (TRL)1 at the end of the project should be 6-72. Proposals should clearly state the starting and target TRLs. The proposed work should enable the technology to achieve the target TRL within the timeframe of the project.

Proposals should include an environmental and economic assessment using Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodologies. Proposals should also include a viability performance check of the developed process(es) based on available standards, certification, accepted and validated approaches, as well as measurement and testing approaches allowing for coming regulatory compliance checks.

Indicative funding: It is considered that proposals requesting a contribution of maximally EUR 7 million would allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude the submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.

1 Technology Readiness Levels as defined in annex G of the General Annexes to the Horizon 2020 Work Programme:

2 For a Research and Innovation Action with a similar objective but TRL 4-5 see Topic BBI 2017.R7.

Products derived from petrochemical feedstock have extensive downstream production routes, developed markets and an efficient infrastructure. Therefore, making the ‘same’ chemicals from biomass and ‘blending’ them into these existing value chains (known as ‘drop-in’ chemicals) is the quickest and most cost-effective way to implement bio-based value chains in the short term. However, there are some bio-based molecules without a ‘significant’ fossil counterpart1 that industry and researchers regard as promising in the medium to long term, due to their special functional properties or possible derivatives.

While the production processes for bio-based chemicals with no significant fossil-based counterpart could be made more economical and sustainable, there is yet no infrastructure for their further use, making them less attractive for now.

Some of these bio-based building blocks have direct applications, but they can also serve to produce a broad variety of other chemicals that can bring renewability and sustainability in many markets. Among these ‘primary’ renewables are levulinic acid and muconic acid. These are building blocks for a variety of applications ranging from polymers and plasticisers and other intermediate building blocks, to lubricants, hydraulic fluids, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. Since these molecules are (relatively) new on the chemical market, their production has not yet benefited from economies of scale and do not have well-developed value chains.

Technically, the production of those primary bio-based chemicals is in many cases already at TRL 4-5, as are some of their ‘secondary’ follow-up products. Industry now needs to demonstrate production routes for these chemicals at TRL 6-7.

The specific challenge is to demonstrate the technology of breakthrough bio-based chemicals with no significant fossil-based counterpart in a full demo-plant and to demonstrate its potential in at least one application at pre-commercial level.

1 Molecules having no fossil-based production route, or whose fossil-based production route(s) – while technically possible – is not commercially pursued because of cost or sustainability issues.

  • contribute to KPI 1: create at least 1 new cross-sector interconnection in bio-based economy clusters;
  • contribute to KPI 2: establish at least 1 new bio-based value chain;
  • contribute to KPI 4: create at least 1 new building block with no significant fossil-based counterpart;
  • contribute to KPI 5: set the basis for at least 1 new bio-based material with high potential for upscaling to flagship level;
  • contribute to KPI 6: create at least 2 new demonstrated consumer products based on bio-based chemicals and materials that meet market requirements;
  • develop processes and technologies that are more efficient (for example in terms of process yields and purity of the target products) and sustainable (for example lower energy requirements, milder operating conditions) than the state-of-the-art process to obtain the same target molecules.