Crucial to the UK economy, the chemical industry underpins manufacturing supply chains that provide the basic chemicals and products for the pharmaceutical, agrochemical, personal care, plastics, automotive, aerospace, and construction sectors. The sector is heavily reliant on petroleum-based resources to create products like plastics, fertilizers, detergents and tyres as well as fossil-fuel energy used in the conversion and manufacturing processes.
In 2016 the chemicals sector accounted for 6.6% of total UK manufacturing GVA and 9% of all UK exports, however, it was also the second-highest industrial emitter of carbon emissions and consumed 16.5% of all industrial energy used.
Drivers for change for the chemical industry, alongside the need to reduce climate-changing carbon emissions, include the economic necessity to reduce the dependency on finite non-renewable resources and consumer demand for greener products that minimise negative impacts to both human and environmental health. A shift to a bioeconomy offers an alternative for industry; switching from a fossil-fuel economy to one that uses renewable, biological bio-based resources.
What are bio-based chemicals?
Biological, chemical, or physical transformation of renewable biological bio-based resources such as plants, algae, crops, trees, marine organisms, agricultural, or food processing by-products can produce bio-based chemicals. Having a more complex molecular structure than fossil-based feedstocks, the conversion of biomass (via biorefineries) can produce a wide variety of chemicals with additional benefits and functionalities. The ten most promising bio-based platform chemicals for the UK, based on market demand and production capability, were investigated in a 2019 study commissioned by the Lignocellulosic Biorefinery Network (LBNet).
Bio-based chemicals are not inherently green or sustainable. Biomass needs to be sourced in a way that does not compete with agriculture or aquaculture and ensures biodiversity and environmental protection. Ideally, a circular economy approach to their life cycle should be applied where raw materials can be sourced from waste biomass (agriculture or food manufacturing by-products) and biodegradability, re-use, or repurposing are designed for the end of life of the resultant products.
Reduced energy consumption in the conversion of biomass to bio-based platform molecules and their further processing, as the building blocks for higher-value chemicals and materials, is also key. Bio-based processes such as fermentation are much less energy-intensive than petroleum chemical processing and technology developments in biorefinery systems are increasingly evolving to maximize outputs by co-producing platform chemicals, materials, and biofuels.
Supporting the transition to bio-based chemicals
Industry’s Interest in bio-based chemicals is growing with established sector leaders investing in new, innovative and greener chemicals, materials and fuels. New-to-the-market bio-based chemicals tend not to be as price-competitive as their petroleum-derived counterparts and, because of this, they account for only a small, but growing, part of the chemicals market. This is because they compete with large-scale oil refineries, with well-established associated technologies and supply chains. Bio-based chemical production, in comparison, can be a high-risk investment, requiring substantial research and development for the commercialization of new and unproven technologies and often lacking economies of scale.
Yorkshire and the Humber’s innovation cluster, BioVale, promote the bioeconomy and – in particular – the development of bio-based chemicals, as one solution, to transition towards a renewable, low-carbon economy. One way we are doing this is by showcasing the potential of bio-based chemicals, as a headline partner, at the CHEMUK EXPO 2021.
Showcasing Innovation and opportunities for the bio-based chemicals sector at the CHEMUK EXPO 2021
The CHEMUK Expo offers an annual opportunity for the UK’s chemical sector to come together to exhibit, present and network and provides a forum for sharing the latest chemical industry supply-chain intelligence. This year the Expo is embracing the shift towards circularity, sustainability, and decarbonisation of the industry, green chemistry supply chains and the growth of new processes and technologies that support the transition to bio-sourced, bio-based industrial and consumer chemical products.
BioVale have organised two sessions at the Expo that highlight the why, how, and who of the transition to bio-based chemicals. In the keynote session, we are bringing together speakers who represent both academia and industry to explore the current capabilities, successes, opportunities, and challenges of transitioning to bio-based chemicals. In our flash-talk showcase, hosted by a BioVale member, Green Rose Chemistry, we will be introducing some of the UK’s leading green and bio-based chemicals sector SME and start-up companies to the UK’s mainstream chemical industry.
Entrepreneurs and SMEs leading the transition to bio-based chemicals
At the CHEMUK EXPO 2021 we are bringing together businesses in the Biovale network, many of whom we have undertaken projects for or who have participated in our entrepreneurship training programmes.
The cohort represents an innovative range of novel and drop-in bio-based products, processes, and services; lubricants, solvents, resins and adhesives, biosurfactants, cosmetics, biofuels, separation, and biomass conversion technologies, open access pilot facilities, research expertise, and consultancy. Together these organizations offer greener and more sustainable alternatives for the industry and include:
Further details of these companies and their participation at CHEMUK 2021 can be found here
Join BioVale at the CHEMUK Expo 2021 on 15 and 16 September 2021.
BioVale is looking forward to catching up with old and making new connections at the Expo and welcome you to talk to us at our exhibition stand K4. Register here for the CHEMUK EXPO 2021