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The Flemish government, in cooperation with industries involved in the field, has recently finalised a roadmap for industrial biotechnology as a Key Enabling Technology. The report lists a series of policy recommendations which will serve as a basis for the establishment of a regional industrial strategy. In addition to this, a recent report established that the Flanders region has issued a high number of patents in industrial biotechnology. Four value chains are considered most promising for the Flanders region:
- production of fine chemicals
- production of second generation sugars from agricultural and industrial residues
- use of lignin-rich resources for the production of high added value materials and chemicals
- the conversion of carbon rich (waste) gases to chemicals
In July 2013, Flanders published an action plan for the bioeconomy which mentions the value of industrial biotechnology and which is called “Bioeconomy in Flanders. The vision and strategy of the Government of Flanders for a sustainable and competitive bioeconomy in 2030”. The interdepartmental Working Group for the Bioeconomy in Flanders is responsible for the further development of the action plan and for monitoring its implementation. The overall strategic aim of this working group is to create market pull and push policies to foster biobased production. From a more horizontal perspective, the Flemish government is set on developing new mild pretreatment technologies for biobased feedstocks and on the further development of the logistics related to biomass.
In 2013 the project “Le Coq Vert” was launched by means of a public-private partnership between one of Wallonia’s competitive poles Greenwin, AWEX (Agence Wallone à l’Exportation et aux Investissements étrangers), and the association Valbiom with amongst others Essenscia Wallonia . With this ambitious project the partners want to contribute creatively to the development of a competitive bioeconomy in Wallonia. The biobased chemistry sector and particularly the green chemistry sector are the main targets. The strategy is focused on valorization of non-food biomass streams (co-products, waste, residues…) and the second generation biorefineries. The specific objectives are the identification of priority R&D projects, trainings and platforms; establishment of a permanent baseline on the bioeconomy in Wallonia; investment stimulation and attracting of foreign investors.
Who is there?
- CINBIOS – The partnership between cluster organisations and associations working in the industrial biotechnology and biobased economy field. It is composed of Flandersbio, Ghent Bioeconomy Valley, Essenscia vlaanderen and FI-SCH.
- FI-SCH – Flanders Innovation hub for Sustainable Chemistry. Based on a joint initiative of the chemical industry and the Flemish government, FI-SCH is a platform for open innovation commissioned to accelerate the transition to sustainable chemistry.
- Greenwin – competitive pole working as an innovation and environmental technology accelerator
- Valbiom – association promoting the use of non-food biomass
- TWEED – cluster association promoting renewable energy and technologies enabling energy savings
Examples to watch
Bio base Europe started as the largest INTERREG project so far and benefited from a contribution of €21 million. Within the project, Flanders and the Netherlands joined forces and established a state-of-the-art research and training facility which consists of the Bio base Europe pilot plant and the Bio base Europe training center. The Bio Base Europe pilot plant was selected as an exemplar model for a shared pilot line for the industrial biotechnology KET by the Multi Key Enabling Technologies Pilot lines project. Bio Base Europe is a project partner in a series of EU funded and regional projects. In addition to this, the pilot plant has cooperated with more than 80 private partners (large companies, SMEs RTOs, technical start ups etc…) to help with their piloting activities and their testing of new technologies.
The Bio base Europe pilot plant is a flexible and diversified pilot plant offering support for development and scale-up of biobased products and processes.
The focus lies in:
- The development of second generation biobased products and processes
- The scale-up and optimization of bioprocesses
The infrastructure enables the custom manufacturing of biobased products at the kilo- to multiple ton scale.
- Alco biofuel, Biowanze and Tereos Syral – wheat to bioethanol plants in the Flanders region
- Citrique Belge‘s production facility is the largest in Europe
- Cargill – European R&D centre is established in Vilvoorde
- De Saedeleir textiles – PLA-based carpets and other related products
- Ecover production facility in Malle
- Du Pont Industrial Biosciences manufacturing facility in Brugge
Galactic is a Belgian company specialised in lactic acid and other fermentation products which recently built a large scale research facility in Brussels. The Galactic innovation centre also aims to be an incubator for biotechnology SMEs and academics. In addition, the joint venture between Galactic and Total Petrochemicals called Futerro produces PLA from renewable vegetable resources in Escanaffles.
R&D funding is mainly organised in a top down way by the government agencies IWT (applied research) and FWO (fundamental research). Budgets are not specifically dedicated to sectors or domains, but to project types. Funding streams for stimulation of entrepreneurship are managed by the government agency AO. They are also not linked to specific fields or subjects.
Next to the top down programs of IWT, FWO and AO, Flanders has intermediary innovation structures that can award a certain budget to innovation projects and activities within their sectors and/or strategic topics. These structures are often public-private partnerships between industrial players and the government with a yearly budget ranging from €1-8 million.
The above mentioned PPP is called FI-SCH. Its work is structured along four major programs:
- renewable chemicals
- side stream valorization
- process intensification
- advanced sustainable products;
as well as around three strategic themes
- carbon capture and utilization
- plastics production and processing
Within its yearly budget of €5-6 million, there is plenty of room for biobased chemistry, and industrial biotechnology is used as a tool in quite a number of projects.
The competitiveness cluster Greenwin can fund from 60% to 80% of the project costs. Only SMEs are eligible candidates for funding.
- Knowledge base (biotechnology, process technology), (modern) agriculture, strong industry (food, chemistry, energy), well-developed logistics (land and waterways, port infrastructure), forerunner in collecting and recycling waste;
- Little surface area, densely populated, high environmental pressure, poor exploitation of research, fragmented research landscape, extensive regulation and complexity of the Belgian constitution, few funding programmes aimed at developing biobased applications
- Existing policy and initiatives, biomass inventory, several regional clusters, collaboration with the Netherlands (Flanders) and France (Walloon Region);
- Little own technological development, growing competition from other European clusters, insufficiently coordinated regulations and policy.
Monika Sormann, Senior policy adviser, Flemish Government – Department Economy, Science and Innovation (monika.sormann[at]ewi.vlaanderen.be)
Documents and links
- Report of the BIO-TIC workshop in the BENELUX – June 2013