Samiksha Jaiswal (Editor)

Biobased economy

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Biobased economy, bioeconomy or biotechonomy refers to all economic activity derived from scientific and research activity focused on biotechnology. In other words, understanding mechanisms and processes at the genetic and molecular levels and applying this understanding to creating or improving industrial processes.


The term is widely used by regional development agencies, international organizations, biotechnology companies. It is closely linked to the evolution of the biotechnology industry. The ability to study, understand and manipulate genetic material has been possible due to scientific breakthroughs and technological progress.

The evolution of the biotechnology industry and its application to agriculture, health, chemical or energy industries is a classic example of bioeconomic activity.


The term was first defined by Juan Enríquez and Rodrigo Martinez, Life Sciences Chief Strategist at IDEO at the Genomics Seminar in the 1997 AAAS meeting. An excerpt of this paper was published in Science."

Enríquez and Martinez' 2002 Harvard Business School working paper, "Biotechonomy 1.0: A Rough Map of Biodata Flow", showed the global flow of genetic material into and out of the three largest public genetic databases: GenBank, EMBL and DDBJ. The authors then hypothesized about the economic impact that such data flows might have on patent creation, evolution of biotech startups and licensing fees. An adaptation of this paper was published in Wired magazine in 2003.

Since about 2005, the creation of a biobased economy has been a significant issue in the Netherlands. Pilot plants have been started i.e. in Lelystad (Zeafuels), and a centralised organisation exists (Interdepartementaal programma biobased economy), with supporting research (Food & Biobased Research) being conducted.

In 2012 president Barack Obama of the USA announced intentions to encourage biological manufacturing methods, with a National Bioeconomy Blueprint. In the same year in Belgium the Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant was set up.

In practice

The biobased economy uses first-generation biomass (crops), second-generation biomass (crop refuge), and third-generation biomass (seaweed, algae). Several methods of processing are then used (in biorefineries) to gather the most out of the biomass. This includes techniques such as

  • Anaerobic digestion
  • Pyrolysis
  • Torrefaction
  • Fermentation
  • Anaerobic digestion is generally used to produce biogas, fermentation of sugars produces ethanol, pyrolysis is used to produce pyrolysis-oil (which is solidified biogas), and torrefaction is used to create biomass-coal. Biomass-coal and biogas is then burnt for energy production, ethanol can be used as a (vehicle)-fuel, as well as for other purposes, such as skincare products.

    Getting the most out of the biomass

    For economic reasons, the processing of the biomass is done according to a specific pattern. This pattern, as well as the quantities, depends on the types of biomass used. The whole of finding the most suitable pattern is known as biorefining. A general list shows the products with high added value and lowest volume of biomass to the products with the lowest added value and highest volume of biomass:

  • fine chemicals/medicines
  • food
  • chemicals/bioplastics
  • transport fuels
  • electricity and heat
  • Some research is being conducted as well in order to improve the manufacturing processes. For example, to make plastics, paint, medicines, antifreeze out of syngas, a new catalyst has been invented by Krijn de Jong.

    Compared to fossil fuel economy

  • With a fossil fuel economy substances as gasoline, fuel oil, diesel, naphta, kerosine, LPG, and other are converted to: energy, chemical products, food, materials
  • With a biobased economy substances as (syn)gas, sugars, oil, fibres and other are converted to energy, chemical products, (animal) food, biomaterials
  • References

    Biobased economy Wikipedia

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