The term biochemical can refer to any chemical compound which is part of the makeup of living cells.Biobased chemicals offer a sustainable alternative to chemicals based on fossil feed stocks. Developed from biomass, these chemicals can be structurally identical to existing chemicals (‘drop-in’ chemicals) or have new structures that offer new opportunities.
Examples of biobased chemicals that Wageningen university and research develops include:
- Alcohols and acids
- Diols and diacids
- Monomers for radical polymerisation
- Bioaromatics based on lignin, carbohydrates and amino acids
- Fatty acid derivatives from various sources
- Fine chemicals such as peptides and glucosamine glycans.
Investment in biochemicals production capacity is starting to increase from a very low base. Rapid technical progress is also being made in regions such as the US, Asia and Brazil, with a particular focus on facilities using readily available sugar and starch feedstocks.
The global chemistry market was estimated at the € 3127 billion in 2012 and to $4012 billion by 2020. In 2014, the European chemical industry made a market of €673 billion, of which € 558 billion in the European Union. There are several bio-based products on the market and in the EU. In 2011, the chemical industry has used about 8.6 million tonnes of renewable raw materials (Cefic, 2014). The renewable raw materials include vegetable oils and animal fats, carbohydrates, sugar and starch, natural rubber, etc.
The sales of chemicals based on industrial biotechnology were estimated at around € 135–150 billion Euro in 2012 (9% of chemical market) and to € 515 billion until 2020. The percentage of products derived from biotechnological processes will increase in all market segments: base chemicals will increase from € 16 billion in 2010 to € 71 billion in 2020, polymers and fibers will increase from € 19 billion to €167 billion, specialty chemicals will reach €89 billion from € 22 billion, consumer chemicals will grow from € 18 billion to € 104 billion and active pharma ingredients from € 16 billion to € 83 billion. The share of biochemicals was estimated to be 3.5% in the case of biobased products, 9% in the case of specialty chemicals, 12% for consumer chemicals and 34% for active pharma ingredients. For the EU, it was estimated that up to 30% of oil-based chemicals and materials would be replaced with bio-based ones by 2030 (Scarlat et al, 2015).
Cefic, 2014. Measuring Bio-Based Raw Materials use in the Chemical Industry. The European Chemical Industry Council, 2014.
Scarlat,N., Dallemand, JF., Monforti-Ferrario, F. and Nita, V. 2015. The role of biomass and bioenergy in a future bioeconomy: Policies and facts. Environmental Development Volume 15, July 2015, Pages 3-34.