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Assessment of biorefinery concepts and the implications for agricultural and forestry policy

Final Report Summary - BIOPOL (Assessment of biorefinery concepts and the implications for agricultural and forestry policy)

BIOPOL was a two-year research project funded by the European Commission since 2007 through the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6). The overall goal of BIOPOL was to assess the status (technical, social, environmental, political, and implementation) of innovative biorefinery concepts and the implications for agricultural and forestry policy.

Biorefinery concepts are aimed at relevant market-competitive and environmentally friendly synthesis of bio-products - chemicals and / or materials - together with the production of secondary energy carriers - transportation fuels, power and / or CHP. BIOPOL was conceived to address the fact that the wider expectations for biorefineries have not yet yielded clear definitions for biorefinery concepts, or an understanding of the current status and prospective benefits of biorefining in Europe. Therefore, the BIOPOL project was designed to assess the current status of biorefinery activities in Europe and explore future scenarios for development. By systematically accounting for potential technical, political, social and industrial impacts of such scenarios their outputs will be utilised to inform policy formulation in this area. By drawing from several complimentary research disciplines the insights gained will be able to inform EU policy-making and help frame future research directions both in Europe and elsewhere.

The biorefinery definition that has been adopted in the BIOPOL project was the following: 'Biorefinery is the sustainable processing of biomass into a spectrum of marketable products including energy'.

Currently four complex biorefinery systems are distinguished in the research and development literature:
1. green biorefineries: using 'naturally-wet' biomass, such as green grass, alfalfa, clover, or immature cereals;
2. lignocellulosic feedstock biorefineries: using 'naturally-dry' raw material such as cellulose-containing biomass and residues;
3. whole crop biorefineries: using raw materials such as cereals or maize;
4. 'two platform' biorefineries: combine the sugar platform and the syngas platform.

After intense desk research a literature overview of market introduction and development of biorefinery concepts in industry was delivered. Thereby, the focus was set on four economically important and promising industry sectors which could successfully introduce and develop biorefinery concepts and related products in the market: the chemical industry, the pulp and paper industry, the starch and sugar industry, and the biofuels industry. The market acceptance within these industries was analysed in the year 2007 / 2008 by means of a standardised questionnaire-based survey among (potential) industrial actors. Overall, the surveyed companies displayed a positive attitude towards biorefinery concepts with 80 % of the interviewed companies agreeing that biorefineries are promising concepts. This positive attitude was observed in all relevant sectors, although the chemical industry was noticeably less optimistic than the other branches surveyed.

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are important stakeholders for the acceptance of the biorefinery concept and the future implementation of biorefineries in Europe. A survey was conducted among NGOs in the six participating EU Member States to learn their views on the biorefinery concepts. It can be concluded that the consulted NGOs are actively involved in the bioenergy field, and to a lesser but growing extent in the biorefinery field. Overall, the view towards the biorefinery concept appears positive, with the caveat that a substantial number of NGOs are currently developing their position on biorefineries.

In establishing biorefinery operations the involvement of local people is vital. This is of greatest importance for greenfield biorefineries that bring change in the local habitat and to the local community. Interactions with all local actors in the early stages of building a new biorefinery plant are necessary to increase public acceptance. The indirect impact on employment is not easy to measure, especially for biorefineries collocated with existing facilities and using existing supply chains. Nevertheless, benefits are apparent wherever new value is created from residues and wherever current jobs are maintained, for instance jobs that could otherwise be lost due to EU sugar reform. Case studies show that economic factors are currently more important for enterprises than environmental issues.

In general, there are indications that political informants have a good working knowledge of biorefinery concepts and largely share the views of the scientific community regarding the relative environmental and social contributions that biorefining can make. However, the possibility that a deeper understanding of the various potential advantages (and trade-offs) of biorefining may not yet be widespread suggests a need for further political engagement.

With the new biomass supply model, developed by the E3MLab of ICCS, four scenarios were quantified and simulated. The report presented four scenarios which are defined as follows:
- Scenario A1: a given demand for energy biomass / residues to be met by the model with the stand alone technologies; production of by-products is not considered as a constraint.
- Scenario A2: a given demand for energy biomass / residues to be met by the model with the stand alone technologies and the introduction of the integrated biorefinery; production of by-products is not considered as a constraint.
- Scenario B1: a given demand for energy biomass / residues but also specific constraints on total production of glycerol and lignin only with the stand alone technologies.
- Scenario B2: a given demand for energy biomass / residues but also specific constraints on total production of by-products with both the stand alone technologies and the integrated biorefinery.

The main conclusions can be summarised as follows:
- There exist sufficient biomass / residues resources to meet effectively the increased requirements of the RES and climate action policy package of the EU provided that a high portion of available land in the EU is cultivated for raising energy crops.
- The sustainability threshold exerts considerable effects on technology choice for biomass processing and drives early deployment of second generation technologies.
- The second generation biomass supply chain can produce considerable quantities of non energy by-products (e.g. lignin, glycerol) which are valuable components favouring economic effectiveness of new technologies.
- Within such a context of high development of new technologies, there is scope for integration and scale effects along the concept of biorefineries, which induce savings in costs and lower prices.
- Despite high demand for biomass, supply costs and prices are found to stay within a reasonable range over the projection horizon, provided that technology dynamics and scale effects develop sufficiently over the entire biomass supply chain.

34 existing or planned biorefineries have been identified and classified. In addition, 45 biorefinery-related major research and development (R&D), pilot and demonstration projects have been identified in the EU. The majority of the identified biorefineries (23 out of 34) and biorefinery projects (28 out of 45) are located in Western Europe, followed by Northern and Southern Europe. About 75 % of the biorefinery sites are located in an area comprising Northern France, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. These six countries possess both a variety of suitable feedstocks for biorefinery applications and intensive (petro)chemicals production. No existing biorefineries or major R&D projects or pilot plants have yet been identified in the Eastern EU countries.

The establishment of new biorefineries in a certain region will depend on numerous establishment factors such as land use in surrounding area, presence of animal husbandry, presence of oil refineries and chemical plants, and transport options. A model has been developed to help estimate the likeliness of biorefinery establishment according to a number of such key factors for all EU member states.

Whole crop biorefineries may be most likely to develop in traditional areas of wheat, potato or sugar beet production (e.g. France and Germany), near harbours, and where animal feed is required (e.g. Belgium and the Netherlands). Since wheat is more easily transported over large distances harbour areas may be favoured, whilst potatoes and beet (with higher water content) may be processed closer to harvest.

Lignocellulosic biorefineries are likely to take feedstock from straw regions (e.g. France and Germany), wood regions (e.g. Sweden and Finland), or imports. Thus, countries with large harbours and well developed oil and chemical sites (e.g. the Netherlands and Belgium) could be benefited.

Green biorefineries will be influenced by the local availability of grass, clover and demand for animal feed. These areas can be found in the whole of Europe, but mostly in Western Europe.

It is considered that biorefineries utilising syngas could preferentially develop in very similar areas to lignocellulosic biorefineries, with an additional emphasis on existing base chemical infrastructure.

For green biorefineries further basic research is required for pilot plants development and installation, preferably in combination with green crop drying (or other agriculture) plants.

For whole crop biorefineries further basic research is required for pilot plants development and installation, preferably in combination with grain processing plants.

For LCF biorefineries further basic research is required for pilot plants development and installation, preferably in combination with forestry operations and the woodusing industries.

Environmental advantages of products from biorefineries should be acknowledged for example by establishing of a labelling system for bio-based products (similar to 'Der grüne Punkt' for packaging, which has an awareness rating of 98 % in Germany, and is also one of the best-known trademarks worldwide). If possible this system should be financed on the basis of the 'polluter-pays principle' where a 'polluter' is a company which does not use bio-based materials in their manufacturing, because it still prefers petroleum-based components or agricultural enterprises which uses synthetic fertilisers instead of natural ones.

Measures need to be undertaken to allow analysts to better take into account factors such as competition with food and relative price elasticities, the stimulus provided by renewable energy targets, and the competition and synergies with demands from existing biomass based industries. In order to support policy initiatives such as the biomass action plan (BAP), when these plans are drawn up they should take into account the production of not only food / feed and energy but also fibres, biochemicals and biomaterials. The Environmental Technology Action Plan (ETAP) should be translated into action in more areas if it is to have an impact.

To facilitate the development of a competitive bio-based economy in Europe, real integration and coordination of the existing policies is critical. Moreover, long-term policy and regulatory certainty should be pursued to support the continuous development and investment in biorefinery technologies and infrastructure, as well as harmonisation of regulatory policy between Member States and at the EU level. For increased effect, such policy measures should also focus on the uptake and demand for bio-based products.

The support of communication and dissemination efforts concerning the introduction of bio-based products is recommended. It is also important to create a forum for collecting user feedback on the use of bio-based products and to follow-up the development of new products, in particular those from small companies. Eco-efficiency labelling and defining bio-based products and their properties will likely form an integral part of communicating the benefits of such products. It is recommended to formulate and implement EU wide targets for bio-based products and to promote the production and application of bioproducts by following the recommendations of the current study and from a part of the lead market initiative e.g. on the development of sustainability and product standards, eco-labelling, green public procurement policies (based on LCA) and dedicated communication. The biorefinery concept has a substantial potential for the economy and sustainable development of Europe. Investigation of the possibilities for establishing a dedicated European platform for the promotion and coordination of biorefinery development, including participation by industry, R&D and other stakeholders, is recommended.

Establishment and type of biorefinery should depend on the local circumstances (establishment factors). The North of Europe could attract more chemical industry to increase the efficiency of their lignocellulosic biorefineries. This way, the presence of lignocellulosic biorefineries could become an establishment factor for the chemical industry instead of the other way around. In the East of Europe the agricultural yield could be increased. This would also increase the likeliness of biorefinery establishment in this region.

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