Plant Production of Chemical Building Blocks
A biobased economy retrieves an appreciable part of its energy and chemicals from biomass. A transition to a biobased economy therefore involves not just crop-based production of textiles, paints, lubricants, fuels, building materials or medicines, but also implies large-scale use of crop-derived feedstocks for energy purposes and as a source for bulk chemicals. The transition from fossil to biobased energy and chemical production
is justified by the finite nature of petro-based resources, increasing consumption rate and recovery costs (caused by the increasingly complex requirements for oil exploitation from, for example, tar sands or deep sea and polar wells). A future shortfall in energy might be compensated by a transition towards solar, wind or nuclear energy. Safeguarding carbon feedstocks needed to produce materials, solvents, chemical intermediates and polymers will probably require a shift to biomass feedstocks. The need to broaden the resource basis for chemicals and polymers to
renewable sources is increasingly recognized by policy makers and industry, and several national action plans have been put into place for this purpose. The USA, as well as smaller countries such as Canada and the Netherlands, has formulated ambitions to replace fossil resourcebased chemicals with biomass derived chemicals by up to 25 to 30 per cent by 2030. In this chapter, we discuss the development of production routes to bulk
chemicals rooted in agriculture. Agribased chemicals production requires either crop-derived feedstock conversion into valuable molecules (through so-called ‘white’ biotechnology or (bio)chemical catalysis), or alternatively, direct production in plants followed by refining. This chapter discusses the last option. Major challenges include development of dedicated crops for the production of feedstock, new refinery concepts, and chains that allow
economically and environmentally valid production of Chemical Building Blocks (CBBs) from agribased feedstocks. The aim is to show how dedicated plants may provide sufficient CBBs. The layout of this chapter is as follows. The next section outlines a scenario of a chemical production chain rooted in agriculture. Criteria that need to be fulfilled for the establishment of such production chains are discussed in the third section. Examples of crop-CBB combinations that may act as essential components of new CBB production chains are presented in the fourth and fifth sections. Potential implications of crop-based CBB production for agri-and chemicals sectors are discussed in the sixth and seventh sections.