Friday, 14 February 2014

Biobased Chemicals, Industrial Sugars and Biorefineries

On the evening of 10 February RSC Belgium members and friends were treated to an overview of the current status and future opportunities for the bioeconomy in Europe from Dr. Adrian Higson, Head of Biorefining at NNFCC Bioeconomy Consultants based in York, UK. The talk attracted a good crowd to the Swoosh Lounge at the British School of Brussels.

The transition to a sustainable, biobased economy is one of the major challenges and opportunities for Europe today. The present economy depends heavily on non-renewable fossil resources, resulting in Europe facing the multiple challenges of resource price volatility and supply security, increasing environmental pressure and climate change. The transition to the biobased economy combines necessity with the tremendous opportunity for sustainable growth and competitiveness based on the development of innovative, renewable materials and products. Adrian's presentation looked at the emerging biobased chemicals industry, its drivers and barriers, and highlighted how biobased innovation is being supported in the UK and Europe.

Adrian (above) made a particular reference to a €6.2 million transnational collaboration initiative with significant Belgian interest: the BioBase NWE project. This project aims to bridge the innovation gap for biobased breakthroughs and accelerate the growth of the biobased economy. It brings EU and regional partners together to provide financial, technological, training, networking and political support to enterprises in North West Europe innovating in biobased products and processes. You can view Adrian's presentation here

Biobased biography
Dr. Adrian Higson is Lead Consultant on Biobased Products at NNFCC and works with global brands to develop their understanding of the opportunities and risks presented by the biobased economy and acts as an advisor to the UK Government on biobased economy development. He coordinates several UK research programmes including the recently launched £45 million IB Catalyst. He is a member of the European Commission Expert Group on Bio-based Products and member of the UK’s Industrial Biotechnology Industry Task Force. Adrian obtained his PhD from the University of Liverpool and subsequently held posts at the Universities of Colorado and Dundee. Prior to joining NNFCC he was a Project Manager at Sigma Aldrich.

Established by the UK Government some 10 years ago as the National Non-Food Crops Centre, the NNFCC initially focused on helping extend the competitive non-food uses of crops. Today NNFCC is an international consultancy providing advice on the conversion of biomass to bioenergy, biofuels and bio-based products. The company is based in the BioCentre on the York Science Park.

NNFCC specialises in providing information and knowledge on the supply of biomass, its use in industrial applications and the fate of biomaterials at their end-of-life. It operates in five specific sectors: Feedstock, Bioenergy, Biofuels, Bio-based products and Biorefining.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Future Energy Supplies for Europe

Energy is vital to our modern society. But where will our future energy supplies be sourced? How do we ensure an adequate energy supply while protecting our environment? And where do the chemical sciences fit into all this? These questions were the subject of a Café Chimique event organised by RSC Belgium on 28 January.

The event took place in the very convivial atmosphere of the Salle des FĂȘtes in Auderghem Cultural Centre. There an audience of well over 50 RSC members, friends and members of the public listened to short presentations from our panel of four speakers to help the audience understand the issues, possibilities and policy pros and cons.

Energy spread
Our debate speakers represented a wide range of energy perspectives. You can access a short biography for each of our speakers here.

Our first speaker was Peter Botschek (above), Head of Energy at Cefic - the European Chemical Industry body. Peter gave an overview of the energy scene in Europe and its evolution and possible impact on the chemical sector. You can find his presentation here.

Philippe Charlez (above), Unconventional Resources Development Director, from French oil and gas giant Total is an expert in hydraulic fracturing and was able to give an insight on the techniques used to liberate shale gas and oil. His presentation is here.

Jan Duerinck (above) from the Belgian Flemish research organisation VITO is an economist and expert on renewable energy technologies specializing in the development of techno-economic energy–environmental models. He was co-author of the study “Towards 100% renewable energy in Belgium by 2050” published in 2012 that was commissioned by the four Belgian ministers in charge of energy. His slides can be found here.

Finally Richard Ivens (above), Institutional Affairs Director at Foratom – the European Nuclear industry body - talked about the current status of the nuclear energy sector with a special focus on post Fukushima developments. Richard's presentation is here.

High level of debate
Following a short pause to refresh our glasses we launched into an audience-led debate on the future of our energy supplies expertly marshalled by our chairman Bob Crichton.

The questions from the audience were varied ranging from the environmental and economic issues of 'fracking' to the viability nuclear and some renewable technologies to achieve a truly low-carbon energy system.

The mix of technical, economic and political issues raised during the hour-long session kept our panel on their toes and they clearly enjoyed the debate. Commenting afterwards Philippe Charlez said: "It was really a pleasure to participate in this Cafe Chimique. I was impressed by the level of the debate and the quality of the questions."

The issue of how our future energy supplies will be provided is clearly very complex. But following the debate on 28 January  RSC Belgium members and friends now have some valuable insights on the varied challenges and problems that need to be overcome to ensure we 'keep the lights on' across Europe!