Holland and a biobased economy

Notes from Associate Editor Erin Voegele's trip to Netherlands.
By Erin Voegele | June 09, 2011

The government of Holland is working to support and build up its biobased economy. In late May, I had the opportunity to attend a tour hosted by the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency. The event aimed to highlight some of the biorefining and bioenergy companies active within the country, while also showcasing some of the economic and logistical advantages the region can offer to new companies in the biobased sector.

During the week-long event I was not only able to meet with representatives of the country’s Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation, I also had the opportunity to tour nearly a dozen biorefining projects, ranging from commercial scale operations to research and development initiatives. At the end of the week, one thing was clear—the Dutch government has recognized the economic development opportunity the biorefining sector can offer and is taking the necessary steps to attract investment to its growing biobased industry.

Sustainability is a hot topic in Europe. Representatives of nearly every company involved in the tour stressed how important sustainability targets are to their operations and growing business sectors. In fact, one project highlighted at Wageningen University, known as the BIOCOMET project, is working to directly produce chemicals as part of a photosynthesis process. Another project at the university currently aimed at increasing food production, is working to increase the amount of solar energy plants can convert into carbohydrates.

In addition to touring several bioplastic and algae operations, I also visited a biomass gasification and torrefaction project housed at the Energy Research Center of the Netherlands, which is one of Europe’s leading renewable energy research institutions. The center is working to develop a torrefaction process that can convert a wide variety of biomass materials into a fuel powder or fuel pellets that could be used on their own or co-fired with coal to produce heat and power. A 5-10 ton-per-hour demonstration plant is currently under development. Regarding gasification, the center has developed a technology it refers to as a Milena gasifier. The system features an indirect fluidized bed gasifier and an innovative tar removal system.

For full coverage of the trip, including details of the algae and bioplastic projects I toured, please see the July issue of Biorefining Magazine.