From biobased to fossil based…
As mentioned, all of humanity once lived in a Biobased Economy. It is known that even the Romans at the beginning of the era were already aware of the fact that coal could be used as fuel, but until the late Middle Ages, wood was still sufficiently available and fossil raw materials were not yet available for materials and products. used. With the commissioning of the first coal mines, this will change and certainly with the rise of the industrial revolution (from 1750) the use of coal for energy production is taking off. The production of iron and steel from ores will also increase on a larger scale.
Petroleum started to play an increasingly important role from the end of the 19th century. Then petrochemistry arises, a branch of chemistry that deals with the processing of petroleum and its products. From the first drilling in 1853, petroleum became more available and people discovered the many different uses that can be extracted directly or indirectly from “the black gold”. Certainly after the Second World War, for example, the plastics industry developed very quickly and the global economy runs more and more on fossil resources. In the Netherlands, a great deal of progress has been made since the discovery and exploitation of the natural gas fields in Drenthe and Groningen (from 1948), the whole of the Netherlands will be ‘using gas’ from then on.
…and back again…
Butttt… It is becoming increasingly clear that the use of fossil raw materials also entails many challenges. Quickly, and certainly not exhaustively, summed up:
- The stock of fossil resources is finite
- Extraction of fossil resources causes local environmental damage
- Extraction of fossil resources is a major contributor to climate change
- Geopolitical tensions may jeopardize the accessibility of fossil raw materials
The contribution to climate change in particular is now causing policymakers and industry to innovate in biobased applications. But do not forget that the stock of fossil raw materials is finite. The world’s population uses as much petroleum per day as is “produced” by the earth in 1,000 years. It is estimated that the profitable “proven reserves of petroleum” will be consumed in approximately 40 years, depending of course on supply and demand. The stock of natural gas is assumed to be 60 years. The stock of coal (including coal and lignite) is much larger. It can be used for decades, if not hundreds, of years.
Examples of how the geopolitical playing field can influence the accessibility and use of fossil resources (and vice versa) can be seen in the construction of the Nordstream gas pipeline from Russia to Europe and the political tensions in Venezuela, the country with the greatest petroleum reserves in the world.
The usefulness of using renewable raw materials, biomass, is therefore evident. Due to the short carbon cycle, energy production and use for materials and applications does not contribute to climate change and a lot of renewable biomass is available in the vicinity, so that countries are not dependent on other countries that have stocks of fossil raw materials. Due to our heavy dependence on fossil raw materials, the transition to the Biobased Economy can be profitable on many fronts. At CoE BBE we focus on the research areas Biobased Products, Biobased Energy, Biobased Building and Marine Biobased Specialties.