Holland works to build biobased economy

By Erin Voegele | May 24, 2011

Private companies, government agencies and research institutions are working together to build a biobased economy in Holland, with a focus on renewable chemistry. According to Renee Bergkamp, director general of innovation at the country’s Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation, Holland’s chemistry sector created €48 billion ($67.7 billion) of revenue in 2010. “The chemical industry represents nearly 20 percent of our exports,” Bergkamp said, noting that the industry also employs 65,000 highly-educated workers.

According to Bergkamp, the chemical and biobased industries are an important driver of research and development activities in the Netherlands. “That is important because we want to be a knowledge economy,” she said. “It’s a sector that is the core of Holland. It’s working on a sustainable future and it proves to be able to put that into successful business, because knowledge is nice, but you have to make business of it.”

Bas Pulles, commissioner of the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency, also noted that that his country boasts the 16th largest economy in the world. This is particularly notable considering its relatively small geographic footprint. The Netherlands has a significant economic base that is built on trade and investment, he added.

According to Pulles, the Netherlands represents an attractive option for foreign investors due to its strategic location and infrastructure. The region’s ports, airports and IT infrastructure allow companies with operations in Holland to service all areas of Europe. In fact, Pulles noted that 60 percent of all European distribution centers are located within the country, which also features a favorable business environment and a strong history of trade. There are minimal hurdles that foreign investors must overcome in order to set up operations in the Netherlands, Pulles said. 

Regarding logistics, Holland is home to two of Europe’s largest ports: the Port of Rotterdam, which is the largest in Europe; and the Port of Amsterdam, which is the fourth largest. Even with these strong logistical attributes, Pulles said that Holland’s economy has a strong service base rather than a strong manufacturing base found in many other parts of Europe.

Holland also has strong employment numbers and offers incentives to highly-skilled workers who move to the country for work.  While many countries are still recovering from the recession in terms of employment, Pulles said unemployment in the Netherlands remains low. “We feel there is a shortage of highly-skilled labor here,” he said. To help attract more skilled workers to the country and its industries, income tax incentives can be negotiated. There are also tax incentives available for foreign investors that set up operations within Holland, Pulles continued.

According to Cornelis Mijnders, manager of Holland’s National Program for the Bio-Based Economy, the main drivers of his country’s biobased economy are currently innovation and economic development, and environmental policy, among other factors. One way in which the government is working to drive innovation in the bioeconomy is through open source pilot plants, which are made available to a wide range of companies and projects. Mijnders estimated that those pilot plants will be available for industry in June. He also noted that Holland will not be capable of producing enough biomass to support its growing bioeconomy. For that reason, there will be opportunity for feedstock suppliers in other parts of the world to fill Holland’s need for sustainably produced biomass.