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Bioeconomy: success stories from the european chemical industry

The good stories presented in this section include samples that have been brought to the attention of The European Chemical Industry (Cefic) by the companies or the national associations. Many more activities are ongoing in the chemical sector as can be witnessed from consulting chemical companies’ websites and the trade press.

Bioplastics in Circular Economy

BASF

Description

Biopolymers are a building block of bioeconomy. BASF established ecovio® as the world class brand for biodegradable polymers. ecovio® solutions are mainly based on mixtures of polybutyrate (PBAT) copolyester and polylactic acid (PLA), which opens a range of targeted flexible and rigid applications as solutions that help close the loop of the food value chain. A good product example is compostable biobased fruit and vegetable bags (F&V bags). About 70% of organic waste in Europe is not separately collected, yet. The European Parliament has voted that organic waste collection shall become mandatory in Europe. In this regard, F&V bags made of ecovio® provide values beyond simple carrier bags, as the bags can be re-used to improve food waste collection and recovery, and additionally, reduce food losses due to breathability of the bags. In France, for example, unsorted household waste still contains approx. 1/3 organic fraction, mostly food waste. While the European Union has set targets for reducing plastic bag consumption, it recognizes the benefits of compostable bags for organic waste diversion and allows EU member states to exempt compostable bags from the reduction targets. Accordingly, France has decided to exempt home-compostable biobased F&V bags from a ban of lightweight plastic bags.

Sourcing and producing biomass to replace the polymers’ fossil structure with renewable constitutes boosts innovations in the field of the clean technologies (bio-refineries), processing and eco-design for good technical performance, and the basic research to understand effects of the renewable constitutes on the end of life of the final product in order to contribute to the Circular economy.

In parallel to the basic research and product development, the biopolymers industry is strongly engaged in education of the market and building a collaboration in the value cloud between all stakeholders, which is critical for the success of the bioeconomy. Our key to transform the practices in communities are the ecovio® circular programs: in these lighthouse projects, our stakeholders test our solutions in practice. We brief policy makers on qualitative and quantitative results from these projects. As result, our technological innovation enables social innovation

What is the added value in terms of environment, societal and economic benefits?

Environment & Social

Biomass is sourced for production of biodegradable polymers that are used in applications where they facilitate: 1) clean, safe and easy organic waste collection and 2) promotion of biological treatments (compost and biogas). Organic recycling eventually leads to generating biomass, which demonstrates closing of the biological cycle. In other words, biodegradable polymers facilitate the biomass cycle and circulation of nutrients, which increases the resource efficiency. Moreover, harvesting the renewable raw materials enables a better product carbon footprint, promotes local rural development and paves the way for the commercial alternatives to the fossil oil. Biopolymers play an important role in raising the public awareness about the sustainability challenges in our society and our responsibility from the suppliers’ end, as well as from the disposal end.

Economic

1. Local waste management optimization: from 2006-2016, sales of ecovio® bags alone, have enabled over 1.5 million tons of additional organic waste diversion. The full waste treatment costs for incinerating or landfilling these organic wastes would have been over 100 million € higher.

2. High value recycled plastic: price of recycled bioplastic can be competitive to virgin bioplastic materials for the same technical application

3. Education and value chain collaboration for market development – leads to lower price and more access and investment for further technical optimization

4. Plastic processing industry – boosting local production as competition to Asian imports

5. Creation of new jobs, attracting investments: Taking the amount of potential biowaste from municipal waste of 64 Mt into account, would create up to 50.000 direct jobs in the biowaste sector. Source European Compost Network

What are the main challenges?

1. Volumes and diversity

2. Prices

3. Consumer behavior, as the trigger to demonstrate the added value of biopolymers in defined applications which contribute to sustainability

4. Regulatory missing

5. Traceability

6. Boundaries in regard with the applications and markets

7. Misinformation/inconsistency in the regional markets

Biomass Balance Approach

BASF

DESCRIPTION

BASF offers customers a variety of products for which at the beginning of the value chain fossil resources were replaced by a sustainably produced renewable feedstock. For each of our Biomass Balanced Products the amount of necessary resources is calculated and then a respective amount of feedstock is replaced at the beginning of our production chain. As our Verbund includes over 160 production plants connected by thousands of kilometers of pipes, it cannot be traced where the biomass will exactly end up. Therefore, our Biomass Balanced Products are NOT bio-based. However, Biomass was used at an early process step of the chemical production instead of fossil resources. The system can easily be compared to the one of green electricity. All sources feed into one system and the green electricity cannot be separated anymore from the conventional energy production. Nevertheless, you can buy green electricity and thereby contribute to sustainability.

The Biomass Balance approach was developed by BASF in cooperation with an external certification partner (TÜV Süd) and published as Standard CMS71. Regular audits ensure that the feedstock needed for our Biomass Balanced Products is indeed replaced by a respective amount of renewable feedstock. Furthermore, customers receive a certificate proofing their fossil resource savings as well as CO2 reduction.

What is the added value in terms of environment, societal and economic benefits?

1. Fossil resource savings

2.  Reduced CO2 emissions

3. Product specifications remain unchanged

4.  Highly efficient production plants (e.g. energy, water, resources in general etc.)

5.  Use of existing production plants and established production chains

6. Use of renewable feedstock for products that cannot or only at significantly higher costs be produced on a renewable basis

What are the main challenges?

1. Biomass Balanced Products are NOT bio-based. Therefore, if one analyzes the product one will most likely not find the renewable resources used. The system is based on trust in the certification, that the respective amount of fossil resources was indeed replaced at the beginning of the value chain.

2. So far no European Standard was established with clear definitions, frame conditions etc. for the chemical industry.

Biodegradable polymers

Synvina a joint venture of Avantium & BASF

Description

Decoupling from fossil feedstocks is an integral part of the transition towards Bioeconomy. The re-design of products that are conventionally sourced mainly from fossil feedstocks is thus a major challenge for the plastics industry. Till today, the use of fossil based polyester products is widespread due to a lack of alternatives with convincing properties.

To tackle this challenge, Synvina presents the monomer furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA) and the polymer polyethylenefuranoate (PEF), a novel 100%-bio-based polyester. FDCA, the basis of PEF, can be sourced from different renewable feedstocks. Currently, starch from first generation feedstock is used for the FDCA production. The use of second generation feedstock is under development. PEF is suitable as the main component or as a barrier layer in cups and trays, flexible packaging as well as bottles for carbonated and non-carbonated soft drinks, water, dairy products, still and sports drinks, alcoholic beverages as well as personal and home care products.

PEF is chemically similar to PET but has a significantly higher CO2 (6-10x) and O2-barrier (10x) as well as improved mechanical features. These superior properties compared to conventional plastics make PEF a promising material for various applications such as food and beverage packaging. The higher barrier properties for gases like carbon dioxide and oxygen additionally entail the benefit of a longer shelf-life for packaged products. For example for small bottles, we have developed a PEF resin and blowing practice over the years that enables 14g 237mL bottles with 20 weeks CO2 shelf-life compared to 4 weeks in PET. In addition, the higher mechanical properties of PEF allow for thinner- and therefore lighter- packaging.

PEF is furthermore unique with regards to recycling. It is technically acceptable in the rPET stream, but also can be sorted out by NIR sorting as an unknown, unless recyclers choose to enter into co-recycling. For this Synvina has gained interim approval from the European PET bottle platform for a volume of up to 50,000 tons per year, which represents Synvinas first Industrial plant to be built in Antwerp.

Synvina as a company is a Joint venture founded in 2016 between Avantium and BASF to produce and develop the market for PEF and its Monomer FDCA (2,5-Furandicarboxylic acid). Combining Avantium’s technology and BASF engineering knowhow and financial stability, we aim to build a 50,000 tons plant in BASFs Verbund site in Antwerp. As such Synvina presents an example of how superior material performance can be utilized to move away from petroleum based plastics towards a truly circular bioeconomy.

What is the added value in terms of environment, societal and economic benefits?

1. PEF is a novel, 100%-bio-based polyester for example for packaging applications

2. Improved barrier properties: With a significantly higher barrier towards CO2 (6-10x) and O2 (10x) compared to PET, PEF enables longer shelf-life for packaged products.

3. Higher mechanical strengths: PEF allows for thinner- and therefore lighter- packaging

4. PEF can be recycled in the common PET recycling streams

What are the main challenges?

1. Competing with the economies of scale of established materials

2. Commoditization of packaging raw material has led to a reduction in small scale testing equipment at companies, meaning large volumes are required for approval

Biogas from forest based slurries

Envor Protech Ltd

Description

Envor Protech Ltd has developed the technology for the first, commercial full-scale biogas plant that shall use forest-based slurries from pulping process as the feedstock. First full scale plant has been built and started the operation in the area of MetsäFibre Bioproduct Mill in Äänekoski by EcoEnergy SF Ltd. Biogas plant processes the wastewater slurries of the Bioproduct Mill, and turns those into biogas for transportation, fertilizers and solid biofuel. MetsäFibre Bioproduct Mill is the first new generation Bioproduct Mill in the world, as well as the single biggest investment in the history of Finnish forest sector.

Envor Protech Ltd is one of the leading Finnish biogas technology companies with several references globally with the state of the art EPAD technology. In recent years, Envor Protech has been investing in a R&D project to develop the biogas process for the lignin-based raw materials. Tekes, the Finnish funding agency for innovation, has given a remarkable support for the R&D project. This new EPAD Forest process has global potential in waste treatment of pulp&paper sludges as well as other biodegradable waste streams.

Figure: EPAD biorefining technology by ENVOR Protech, Finland. Used in the first, commercial full-scale biogas plant that uses forest-based slurries from pulping process as the feedstock. The plant is integrated to MetsäFibre Bioproduct Mill in Äänekoski and operated by EcoEnergy SF.
What is the added value in terms of environment, societal and economic benefits?

The biogas plant is part of the bio-ecosystem of Bioproduct Mill. All wastewater slurries from the pulping process are treated in the plant. All streams and materials are recycled and utilized with no emissions to the environment. Biomethane produced is used as vehicle fuel both in plant vehicles and other transportation. Solid residue, digestate is thermally dried and used as biofuel. The material has received an end-of-waste status and can be used as biofuel in power plants > 5 MW. The carbon dioxide separated from the biogas is collected and used in the pulping process. Reject waters of the biogas plant are recycled back to to BioMill WWTP.

The process turns the waste streams of pulping process into valuable end-products and enhances the environmental performance of the Mill’s ecosystem.

What are the main challenges?

Innovation funding for SME’s: Grant option instead of loan option would enhance the innovation process is SME size companies.

Tall oil is a treasure trove of bio-based chemistry

Forchem and Kraton

Description

Crude Tall Oil (CTO) is a renewable oily mixture of natural chemicals obtained from coniferous wood as a co-product of forest industry's pulping process. The fractions of CTO are upgraded into a wide range of products in Finland by two companies, Forchem and Kraton.

The ecosystem is an example of a well-functioning industrial symbiosis between the chemical industry and the forest industry The refining process of CTO starts with distillation, after which the fractions obtained are further upgraded into a variety of high value bio-based products to be used e.g. in paints, lubricants, adhesives, road marking agents and functional food and feed. The carbon footprints of these pine chemicals are approximately 70% lower than those of their fossil counterparts.

One of latest innovation is the use of CTO derivatives in animal feed (Progres®) where they act as natural anti-inflammatory agents and thus provide a way to reduce the use of antibiotics in poultry farming, which, although not common in Finland, is quite widespread in many other countries leading to concerns on bacterial resistance. Another interesting CTO based innovation is a product (Sylvaroad®) which promotes the recycling of asphalt. It is a substance the addition of which allows up to 75 percent of old asphalt to be reused as coatings for roads. Without compromising on quality of the roads this reduces the need for new bitumen and the need for asphalt waste disposal, resulting in lower costs and saving of natural resources.

CTO distillation refineries are the pioneers and forerunners of bioeconomy. The first tall oil refineries appeared in Finland in the 1910’s. Throughout the years, a lot of academic expertise and practical experience, including patents, in the field has accumulated in Finland. Long traditions boost the continuous development of the industry.

What is the added value in terms of environment, societal and economic benefits?

1. CTO-based chemical products possess high added value e.g. display smart use of bio-based molecules

2. CTO-based chemical products have a significantly lower carbon emission footprint compared to their counterparts derived from fossil raw materials or from other crops

3. the use of CTO derivatives in animal feed can help to tackle the problem of the growing number of antibiotic resistance bacteria: in feed the CTO derivatives act as natural anti-inflammatory agents and thus provide a way of reducing the use of antibiotics in animal farming

4. the use of CTO derivative as a performance additive for reclaimed asphalt pavement promotes the recycling of asphalt. It allows up to 75 percent of old asphalt to be reused as coatings for roads. Without compromising on quality of the roads this reduces the need for new bitumen and the need for asphalt waste disposal, resulting in lower costs and saving of natural resources.

What is the main challenges?

The major challenges are in CTO raw material markets: current RED/ ILUC give preferential treatment to technologies using CTO as a raw material for biofuel production over any other use (distribution quota for biofuels, the lack of coherent definitions of by-product, residue and waste, the system of double-counting)

High performance renewable fluids

Total Specials Fluids

Description

As a leading member in European regulatory bodies and industry organizations, TOTAL Special Fluids, a major producer of hydrocarbon fluids for industry, has pioneered the change towards more environmentally-friendly products. Anticipating the changes in regulations and industry standards, we are at the cutting edge of innovation for safer solvents and strive for a more responsible approach. Environmental impact and worker safety play an increasing role in the choice of solvents, and consumers are starting to turn towards greener solvents and more sustainable solutions.

For more than 30 years, TOTAL FLUIDES has been committed to developing and marketing extremely pure hydrocarbon fluids. Social changes in terms of sustainable development and reduction of environmental footprints have naturally led us to innovate and offer our customers alternative bio-based solutions.

To fulfill with this commitment, TOTAL FLUIDES new bio-sourced offer was introduced in 2016: BioLife.

BioLife fluids are high performance and renewable fluids. They have the advantage of deriving from 100% bio-sourced origin as well as creating new properties.

BioLife products are obtained from processing of selected bio-sourced feedstocks in our HDA* units in Oudalle (France) and Bayport (Texas-USA).

TOTAL FLUIDES was the 1st company to obtain ISCC PLUS certification in France for its Oudalle plant.

Through the patented high-pressure hydrogenation HDA technology coupled with narrow cut distillations, BioLife products are tailored for targeted applications with narrow boiling range and offer pure solutions with ultra low aromatics.

BioLife range products are indeed very innovative and can be considered as a new class of products with outstanding profiles.

Their low odor brings significant advantages in terms of worker comfort. Colorless and chemical inertness properties enable them to be used in various formulations without altering the appearance of the finished product.

Their salient properties include: a very low pour point ensuring product performances even at very low temperature; a very high flash point facilitating safety in material handling and transport; low surface tension for good spreading and wetting on surfaces, outstanding cold flow properties and good fluidity performances even at extreme temperatures, good stability performances at 100°C, making them suitable for applications requiring high stability during use

This set of performances make these products suitable for a wide range of applications such as inks, paints and coatings, sealants, cleaning, degreasing, personal care, home care, drilling fluids, heat transfer, lubricants, hydraulic and metal-working fluids, and many others.

As a front-runner in the bio-solvents hydrocarbons industry, TOTAL FLUIDES is committed to supplying high performance and renewable BioLife products which are already available at industrial scale.

What is the added value in terms of environment, societal and economic benefits?

BioLife products will minimize both human and environmental impacts thanks to following benefits:

1. aromatic-free with less than 0.005% total aromatic content.

2.  BioLife products pass the purity requirement of numerous Pharmacopeia including the EU monograph, USP32 monograph, and the Japan JP XIV monograph.

3. Ecolabels certification for various application: Ecocert Greenlife (personal care, detergency), COSMOS (cosmetics) and OEKO-TEX 100 (textile inks).

4. VOC free according to both VOC Solvents Emission Directive 1999/13/EC and the Decopaint Directive 2004/42/EC.

Moreover, ISCC Plus certification enables TOTAL FLUIDES to highlight:

1. the traceability of its BioLife biobased range with Sustainable and responsible raw material

2.  a reduction of GreenHouse Gas emissions :

2.1 Reduction of the Carbon footprint of its customers’ products

2.2 Gain in their Life Cycle Analysis (LCA)

by using BioLife products.

What is the main challenges?

TOTAL FLUIDES is keen to answering end-customer demand towards more environmentally-responsible solutions.

One of our main challenges is to find partners looking at establishing a link between the performance and the innovative dimension of the bio-sourced origin, and able to promote these products to their customers based on strong differentiation. These partnerships could open up new prospects for our customers with new value propositions in their business.

Circular economy and bioeconomy solutions

Corbion

Description

Corbion is strong in developing solutions for a circular economy and bioeconomy. By means of fermentation of sugars they produce food ingredients, chemical building blocks and biobased plastics. Because the sugars are renewable, all the products of Corbion follow the biological cycle within the circular economy: decoupled from fossil, and with a carbon-sink in the sugar feedstock used. As the global market leader in lactic acid, Corbion produces lactic acid via microbial fermentation of renewable carbohydrates, such as cane and beet sugar.

Lactic acid is widely used as a food ingredient in multiple applications (meat preservation, xx, as well in chemical applications (e.g. home and personal care, coatings, adhesives). Besides those industries, lactic acid is also a principle building block for bioplastics. Corbion provides lactic acid to the joint venture Total Corbion PLA who convert it into the monomer lactide and then polymerize it into Poly Lactic Acid (PLA), currently the only commercially available bioplastic that is both biobased and biodegradable.

At the moment the lactic acid manufacturing processes produce a by-product - gypsum. As demand for lactic acid is growing, the amount of gypsum being produced will reach unsustainable levels. For this reason Corbion has developed its gypsum-free technology to produce lactic acid, which recycles chemicals in the process so that gypsum isn't formed. Corbion's proprietary technology is unique in its ability to combine improved sustainability with scalability (to volumes of more than 100,000 metric tons a year).

Next to these activities, Corbion has also developed a proprietary process to produce 2,5-Furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA) from renewable resources. FDCA has the potential to replace purified terephthalic acid (PTA) in a variety of applications. For instance, FDCA can be polymerized into polyethylene furanoate (PEF) making use of existing polyester infrastructure. PEF gives improved finished product performance, due to better barrier, thermal and mechanical properties when compared to PET.

Another building block for biobased plastics is succinic acid, which is used in the biobased and biodegradable plastic PBS (polybutylene succinate). Together with BASF, Corbion is developing and producing succinic acid via their joint venture 'Succinity'.

What is the added value in terms of environment, societal and economic benefits?

1. Biobased chemicals and biobased plastics offer a reduced CO2 footprint, due to their carbon sink.

2. Biobased chemiclas and biobased plastics reduce the dependency on fossil resources, and will in case of incineration at End-of-Life not emit additional CO2 to the environment.

3.  Bioplastics can offer improved product functionalities and performance in many cases, for example in 3D printing filaments.

4. As the biobased chemicals industry still require extensive innovation and development. There lays a big opportunity for Europe to excel in this new field of the chemicals research, especially combing it with the outstanding knowledge in agro-science of several European countries.

What are the main challenges?

Although the area of land used for growing crops for bioplastics today and in the years to come is minimal, public opinion still raises the concern of using food crops for other applications than food and feed. Over the next decades, world population will grow and global demand for biomass for food and industrial applications is expected to increase.

Currently, sugar-based feedstocks are the most efficient and most sustainable crops having the highest yield per acre of land. Neverthelessr, R&D teams continue to work on new production processes that support the production of bioplastics made from alternative feedstocks. Options for these include non-food biomass crops, agricultural by-products and waste streams. Corbion is the first company to have made PLA from second generation feedstocks, optimizing the lactic acid fermentation process to fit the special characteristics of the biomass. However a lot of effort and time is still needed to deliver economically viable technology.

Climate Friendly Advanced Biofuels

Clariant

Description

The sunliquid® process developed by Clariant meets all the requirements of a technically and economically efficient, innovative process for converting agricultural residues into climate-friendly advanced biofuel. Using process-integrated enzyme production, optimized enzymes, simultaneous conversion of cellulose and hemicellulose into ethanol and an energy-efficient process design, it has been possible to overcome technological challenges and sufficiently reduce production costs in order to arrive at a commercially viable basis. Renewable lignocellulosic resources, such as agricultural residues, do not compete with food and feed crops, but are created in sufficient quantities worldwide as a by-product of current agricultural practices, as in the case of straw from cereal production. Since 2009, Clariant has been successfully operating a first pilot plant at its research facility in Munich. In July 2012, Germany´s largest plant to date started into operation in Straubing – a demonstration project with an annual capacity of up to 1,000 tons of ethanol.

Source: Clariant
What is the added value in terms of environment, societal and economic benefits?

1. GHG savings of this second-generation ethanol are 95% compared to fossil fuels.

2. Pre-treatment: Chemical-free pre-treatment lowers production and investment costs. At the same time, environmental, health and safety risks are minimized.

3. Enzyme production is entirely integrated in the process using the lignocellulosic biomass as feestock for enzyme production. This reduces enzyme costs to a minimum and keeps the plant independent from additional suppliers.

4. The enzymes are highly optimized based on feedstock and process parameters, resulting in maximum yields and short reaction times under optimal conditions. Enzyme production is entirely integrated in the process using the lignocellulosic biomass as feestock for enzyme production, which reduces costs and increases competitiveness.

5. Using optimized microorganisms, the sunliquid® process provides for efficient fermentation, giving rise to maximum ethanol yields. This highly-optimized, one-pot system simultaneously converts both C5 and C6 sugars to ethanol, delivering up to 50% more ethanol than conventional processes which convert only C6 sugars.

6. Finally, the sunliquid technology enables the use of lignocellulosic biomass, a 100% renewable feedstock found in wheat straw, corn stover and sugarcane bagasse that is available globally in large quantities. GHG savings of this second-generation ethanol are 95% compared to fossil fuels.

Finally, the sunliquid technology enables the use of lignocellulosic biomass, a 100% renewable feedstock found in wheat straw, corn stover and sugarcane bagasse that is available globally in large quantities.

What are the main challenges?

1. Feedstocks with low indirect land use change impacts when used for biofuels are inadequately promoted for their contribution to the decarbonisation of the economy.

2. Low levels of support to feedstocks for advanced biofuels, for which technology is more innovative and less mature.

3. Targeted research and innovation programs, public-funding for research-oriented pilot plants and demonstration activities, and public support to minimize financial risks are lacking.

3.1 Tax reductions or bio-based product categories, deduction of bio-based carbon footprint in the calculation of the product’s total CO2 emissions, improved EU and international standards are needed to spur market demand for bio-based products

4. Legal uncertainty.

Stay tuned for more success stories on Bioeconomy

The good stories presented in this section include samples that have been brought to the attention of The European Chemical Industry (Cefic) by the companies or the national associations. Many more activities are ongoing in the chemical sector as can be witnessed from consulting chemical companies’ websites and the trade press.

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