By Ron Kotrba | June 20, 2011

In late May, the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency hosted a tour of the region’s prolific biorefining and bioenergy sector. The agency also showcased some of the economic and logistic advantages Netherlands can offer new companies in the biobased industries. Fortunately, Biorefining Magazine Associate Editor Erin Voegele had the opportunity to travel to Europe and participate in the week-long event.

While there, Voegele met with representatives of the country’s Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation, and she also toured nearly a dozen biorefining projects ranging from commercial-scale operations to research and development initiatives. She says by 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.”

While the importance of sustainability is growing across the world, there is no region that emphasizes it more than Europe. Voegele says on the tours, representatives of nearly every company involved stressed how important sustainability targets are to their operations and growing business sectors. “In fact,” she says, “one project highlighted at Wageningen University, known as Biocomet, 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, which you can read about in her feature article on page 30, Voegele also visited a biomass gasification and torrefaction project housed at the Energy Research Center of Netherlands, one of Europe’s leading renewable energy research institutions. She says the center is working to develop a torrefaction process that can convert a wide variety of biomass materials into a fuel powder or pellets that could be used on their own or cofired with coal to produce heat and power. A five to 10 ton-per-hour demo plant is currently under development. She also says the center has developed a gasification technology it refers to as a Milena gasifier, which features an indirect fluidized bed gasifier and an innovative tar removal system.