Chapter 2: The Opportunity |
13. A bioeconomy can make use of a range of feedstocks
and use different processes to convert these feedstocks into a
wide variety of different products. Examples of the wide range
of feedstocks, products and processes involved in a bioeconomy
are provided in Figure 2.
Feedstocks, processes and products in
This sets out what is put into the bioeconomy
(the feedstock) what is done with it (the process) and what comes
out at the other end (the product). The diagram divides feedstocks
into two major catagories: 'first generation,' and 'second and
third generation.' This is because the science was initially developed
using 'first generation' feedstocks, containing easy to access
carbon. These feedstocks were predominantly food crops, such as
oilseeds or sugar beet. 'Second and third generation' feedstocks
contain carbon which is more difficult to access or make use of.
Such feedstocks include dedicated non-food crops (such as willow
or algae), co-products (or by-products - which are usually formed
at any stage of processing and are not explicitly identified in
the figure) and waste. Only co-products, by-products and waste
are included within the scope of this inquiry. Although agricultural
and forestry residues are shown as a waste within the figure,
it is important to note that in many cases they have an existing
use and should therefore be classified as a co-product or by-product.
Liquid waste comprises organics in untreated water, particularly
the organic fraction of sewage sludge in municipal waste water
treatment and other waste streams such as those from the food
processing industry. Three main types of processes are
illustrated in the diagram: thermochemical, chemical and bioprocessing.
Bioprocessing can produce materials through enzymatic processes
or aerobic conversion or it can produce biogas through anaerobic
digestion. Products are illustrated in the figure in order
of increasing value, with the lowest value at the bottom of the
column. Chemicals are at the top end of the value chain. Some
processes will result in the direct production of the desired
chemical product. In other cases there is an intermediate step,
where a platform chemical is produced, which is then converted
into the desired product. Chemical products include fine chemicals
and pharmaceuticals, speciality chemicals, polymers and commodity
chemicals. This figure was provided by A.D. Little.
14. Waste has the potential to provide an important
feedstock for the bioeconomy. We heard that:
"Waste biorefining has the potential to completely
eliminate the competition for land that is inherent in the use
of most other feedstocks, such as food crops. This may result
in waste becoming the most sustainable feedstock of all."
15. Whilst this may be an optimistic view, waste
can certainly make an important contribution to fuelling a bioeconomy,
and can therefore be transformed from a problem into a resource.
As set out in Figure 2 above, carbon-containing wastes come in
different forms and from different sources. This includes municipal
solid waste, which is the 'black bin bag waste,' from households
and similar sources, which is collected by municipal authorities.
It also includes a proportion of commercial and industrial waste
and construction and demolition waste, which is collected separately
by specialist firms.
16. There are mixed waste streams and also segregated
wastes, such as food waste and green waste from parks and gardens.
Food supply chain wastes such as potato peelings, pea pods or
orange peel provide particularly good sources of feedstock for
a bioeconomy as they have a consistent composition.
The generation of wastes such as these are unavoidable, and yet
we were told that they can provide a rich source of valuable chemicals.
Agricultural residues, forestry residues and liquid wastes such
as sewage sludge can also provide feedstocks for a bioeconomy.
Finally, gases like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and hydrogen,
which would usually be emitted to the atmosphere or burnt, can
be captured and used as a feedstock for the bioeconomy. These
gases are emitted from industrial processes, such as from steel
mills, oil refineries or natural gas extraction.
Large amounts of methane are produced from managed landfill sites.
Paragraphs 28 to 41 provide further information on the types and
quantities of waste available.
17. A range of processes can be used to transform
wastes into useful products. Rather than using fossil fuels as
a source of carbon, waste can be used instead. The carbon in waste,
however, is present in a less easily accessible form. It is usually
necessary to begin by breaking the carbon in solid and liquid
wastes down into simpler molecules. This can be done using high
temperature, thermochemical processes, using chemical processes,
or using biological processes (Figure 2 above). Although many
different processes have been developed, it can be challenging
to ensure that the feedstock-process-product combination represents
an economically and environmentally viable proposition.
18. Thermochemical processes, such as pyrolysis
and gasification, involve heating municipal waste or biomass residues
to high temperatures to produce 'syngas,' a mixture of methane,
hydrogen and carbon monoxide. This gas can be burnt to generate
energy, cleaned up and injected into the gas grid, or used as
a feedstock for further reactions to generate fuels or other chemicals.
19. As an alternative to high temperatures, catalysts
or enzymes can be used in reactions to transform the carbon in
waste into sugars and then into useful chemicals. Biological processes,
which make use of the ability of microbes to digest complex molecules
and create chemicals, can also be used. Biological processes include
fermentation and anaerobic digestion. In some cases the microbes
used in these processes can be found in nature. In other cases,
synthetic biology approaches can be used to adapt microbes to
undertake a particular function. We heard that there was considerable
potential for synthetic biology. By specifically altering the
DNA of microbes, it is becoming possible to make use of an increasingly
wide range of feedstocks or substrates and to produce valuable
"With the advent of synthetic biology, because
the costs now of building genetic materialbuilding DNAare
now much cheaper than they were, we have a great repertoire of
potential genes that we can put into the organism chassis to produce
these products. For me the trick of this is the A to Z of pulling
through the substrate flexibility through the organism chassis
and also developing the pathway that will produce the high-value
product with the minimum of other contaminant byproducts. The
UK research base is superb in terms of how it drives itself."
20. We were informed that microbes can be used
to directly fix waste gases (Figure 3 and Box 2) and produce useful
gases can be high volume by-products of industrial processes such
as steel production. Syngas produced from solid wastes, landfill
gases or biogas produced by anaerobic digestion can also provide
Gas fermenting microbes
Gas fermenting microbes, such as Clostridium autoethanogenum,
can be used to transform carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen (H2)
into useful chemicals. As illustrated in this figure, the microbe
transforms CO and H2 gases into useful chemicals through
metabolic pathways, involving the key metabolic intermediates
Acetyl Coenzyme A (Acetyl-CoA), pyruvate, as well as fatty acids
and terpanoids (secondary metabolites). A range of alcohols such
as ethanol and isopropanol or acids such as 3-Hydroxypropionic
Acid (3-HP) and succinate are produced at different points of
the metabolic pathway. The figure shows the progress of this technology,
using C. autoethanogenum, through different Technology Readiness
It is already possible to use this technology to produce ethanol
at the pre-commercial, demonstration (demo) scale. Lab-scale production
of isopropanol, acetone and 1-butanol is also possible. At the
discovery stage, research is underway to produce chemicals such
as isobutylene and isoprene. In the future, using synthetic biology,
it may be possible to use C. autoethanogenum to directly produce
advanced biofuels, speciality chemicals and platform chemicals
from waste gases. This figure was provided by LanzaTech.
21. Several of the processes described above
are often coupled together to transform waste feedstocks into
useful products. Indeed, it has been suggested that there is a
need to develop 'green biorefineries,' where processes are brought
together, enabling flexibility in the type of feedstock used and
generating multiple products in the same way as oil refineries
do today (Figure 4):
"The integrated biorefinery would make full
use of all the components of multiple feedstocks (particularly
cellulosic and waste streams) to produce value-added multiple
co-products including energy (electricity and steam) and various
bio-based chemicals and plastics, along with fuel-grade ethanol
or other fuels, and perhaps even other products such as paper."
The integrated biorefinery concept
22. The processes described above can generate
a range of different products. As the Royal Society of Chemistry
"Sugars, oils and other compounds in bio-waste
can be converted into platform chemicals directly. These building
block chemicals have a high transformation potential for conversion
into new families of useful molecules such as lubricant, flavours,
nutriceuticals, solvents, polymers and pharmaceuticals."
23. At the most basic level, gases such as methane,
produced from anaerobic digestion, can be combusted to generate
heat and power and digestate can be spread to land. Alternatively,
methane can be cleaned up to be injected into the gas grid. Methane
can also be converted into other products. For example, Calysta
Energy told us about their technology which can be used in producing
biodegradable plastic from methane, and that, "in the future,
we will be able to convert biogas to methanol, a basic chemical
building block and also a valuable gasoline additive."
This type of technology has the potential to create more valuable
products for the bioeconomy.
24. Biofuels for road transport or for aviation
can also be produced from waste (Box 2).
In addition, bioethanol can be used as a building block to generate
other higher value products. We heard that a range of commodity
chemicals could be produced. Green Biologics told us about their
technology for transforming household waste into biobutanol, which:
goes into the chemical market. It is
a relatively high-value commodity chemical. It forms a precursor
for polymers, plastics, paints, coatings in a market worth approximately
$6 billion. Also it is a very good advanced biofuel."
Case studies: sustainable aviation fuelsVirgin
Atlantic and British Airways
"In October 2011 we [Virgin Atlantic] announced
our partnership with LanzaTech to pioneer their ground breaking
new technology, to develop the first of the next generation of
low carbon fuels. Their technology uses a microbe to convert waste
carbon monoxide gases from steel mills (which would otherwise
be flared off direct to the atmosphere as CO2) into
ethanol. The alcohol is then converted to jet fuel through a second
stage process. Initial Life Cycle Analyses suggest that the resulting
biofuel will emit 60% less carbon than the fossil fuel it will
replace, kerosene. Moreover, because it uses a waste-stream, it
creates a biofuel that does not impact on land use or food production.
We're pleased to report that LanzaTech recently secured Roundtable
of Sustainable Biomaterial (RSB) approval for the plant in China
that will produce our first fuel. RSB is widely agreed to be the
gold standard sustainability certification scheme for biofuels.
The process is also expected to improve local air quality in the
vicinity of steel plants by reducing emissions of nitrogen oxide
and other particulate emissions.
The technology is scalable. The first plant in China
will produce enough fuel for us to uplift all of our fuel out
of Shanghai as a 50:50 mix with kerosene, with plenty left over
for other customers. In addition, LanzaTech estimates that its
process could apply to 65% of the world's steel mills, offering
the potential to provide up to 19% of the world's current jet
"British Airways is working with a US-based
technology company to construct a state-of-the-art facility that
will convert around 500,000 tonnes of waste normally destined
for landfillinto 50,000 tonnes of sustainable low-carbon
jet fuel, 50,000 tonnes of biodiesel and 20,000 tonnes of bio-naphtha
per annum. The plant itself will be powered by the waste feedstock.
The work on the detailed plant design is about to commence and
we expect construction to begin in early 2015
The Solena Greensky project intends to use residual
waste that has been processed via Mechanical and Biological Treatment
(MBT) from the South East of England. Solena's plasma technology
is feedstock flexible and can take a wide variety of materials,
including waste agricultural material, waste wood etc. However,
economics favour the use of residual materials that would otherwise
be destined to go to landfill or incineration
The use of residual wastes yields very high greenhouse
gas lifecycle savings and avoids the conflict with land use and
food production that affects some other biofuel production methods.
In addition lower costs (or even negative cost) of feedstock makes
these technologies more economically viable. Many
waste-derived fuels only require minimal incentives
to make them cost competitive with first generation technologies.
More challenging are the barriers to investment which are as a
result of policy uncertainty and investors' attitudes to investing
in first-of-a-kind projects."
25. We also heard about speciality chemicals.
For example, Professor James Clark from the University of
York told us about the extraction of flavours, fragrances and
solvents from citrus peel:
"We already take out oils from citrus waste
in some other countries for various applications, flavours and
fragrances and so on. We can also now get solvents. Limonene,
a very well-known chemical you can get from citrus waste, is now
being used for cleaning printer circuit boards, displacing halogenated
chemicals, so also providing a greener, safer alternative to current
technology. Similarly with citrus waste, you can also get materials
like pectin, which is widely used in the food industry. That is
happening already and I think could happen a lot more."
26. In addition, it is possible to produce entirely
novel products with novel properties. Dr Philp from the OECD
noted that: "the laboratory biosynthesis of 1,4-butanediol
has also been described, a significant achievement as it is an
entirely synthetic compound without natural precedent."
27. To maximise the potential of the bioeconomy,
it will be important to extract as much value from waste as possible,
and ensure that higher value products, such as commodity and speciality
chemicals are generated. This inquiry asked how processes, which
deliver maximum value from carbon-containing waste, can be supported.
Waste as a resource
28. During this inquiry, we received a wide range
of different figures relating to the amounts of waste produced,
managed and disposed of. According to figures provided by the
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), in
2010 the UK disposed of, or recovered, 286 million tonnes of waste.
Figure 5 provides information on the sources of waste, the types
of waste, and the treatment of waste in the UK as classified into
the broad categories required for EU reporting purposes. This
includes types of waste which do not fall within the scope of
this inquiry. The UK is making progress both in terms of reducing
the amount of waste sent to landfill and increasing the amount
is, however, clearly further room for improvement.
Sources, types and treatments of waste
in the whole of the UK in 2010
Data provided by Defra.
The two waste arisings charts present percentage values of a total
of 218 million tonnes of waste. The waste 'disposals' chart presents
percentage values of a total of 286 million tonnes of waste. Arising
and disposal figures are best estimates and do not reconcile as
completely different data sources are used. Less than 1% of waste
(316 thousand tonnes) enters energy recovery. Backfilling into
excavated areas is classed as a form of recovery as the use of
waste for this purpose replaces the use of other materials.
29. Not all of this waste is carbon-containing
waste which could be used for the bioeconomy. Of the categories
described in Figure 5, wastes of relevance to our inquiry are
predominantly animal and vegetable waste, paper and a proportion
of general and mixed waste. The evidence we heard suggested that
between 100 million tonnes and 150 million tonnes of carbon-containing
waste is generated in the UK.
"Here in the UK, on the generally-accepted figures,
we have about 120 million tonnes of biomass-type material. If
you include carbon material, 130 million to 150 million tonnes
of carbon-based material is flowing through a system. Some of
that is pure biomass, some of it is impure like cardboard, and
some of it is pure carbon like plastics and so forth."
30. Defra estimates that 100 million tonnes of
biowaste is available for biogas production.
This includes agricultural residues, food and drink waste and
sewage sludge. We also heard that nine million tonnes of residual
waste, comprising bio-waste and plastic, remains after recyclable
plastic, metal and glass has been removed from unsegregated household
waste. WRAP provided
further information on the amounts of different types of biowaste
and waste plastic generated in the UK (Figure 6).
Quantity of biowaste and waste plastic
recorded in the UK per annum
In the UK altogether 103.5 to 104.5 million tonnes
of biowaste and waste plastic are produced from these sources.
Green waste comprises that collected by local authorities and
sent to composting operations. These data were provided by WRAP
from a range of sources.
The uncertainty of adding together data from different sources
should be noted.
31. There are, however, also additional sources
of carbon-containing waste which might be used as a resource.
Taken together, and including waste gases, these additional sources
may be as large, or larger, than the 100 million tonnes reported
above. For example, Water UK told us that one million tonnes of
dry solids are produced from sewage sludge.
The Institute for European Environmental Protection told us that
there may also be considerable amounts of crop and forestry residues
which could be used:
"Crop residues are by far the largest in terms
of availability. They are in the order of 122 million tonnes a
year for Europe as a whole, versus around 40 million tonnes of
forestry residues as a whole."
32. British Airways told us that "up to
15 billion could flow into Europe's rural economy if all
the available sustainable agricultural and forest harvest residues
could be utilised."
We heard, for example, that 10 million tonnes of straw are produced
in the UK each year, although there is debate as to how much of
this could be diverted from existing uses.
Improved management of forests could deliver both an important
source of local biomass and environmental benefits. In Britain,
it has been estimated (making a number of assumptions) that if
all existing broadleaf and conifer forests were brought into full
sustainable yield production, and material not suited for use
by existing markets was recovered, up to 4.2 million (dry) tonnes
could potentially be made available.
33. It is important to note that there is a difference
between the amount of waste arising and the amount that could
be used in a bioeconomy. The information provided above does not
describe existing routes of treatment or distinguish between true
wastes, co-products and by-products, although for some sources
estimates of this are available.
Indeed, as a result of the way in which the data on biowaste is
collected, much of it is already used. The spreading of manure
to land, for example, is an important way of returning nutrients
to the soil. We heard, however, that making use of waste in a
bioeconomy to generate high value products does not necessarily
eliminate an existing use. Anaerobic digestion can be used to
treat manure to produce biogas and high quality digestate, which
can be returned to soil. Although the economic feasibility would
need to be examined, Professor James Clark told us:
"I am not too far away from Drax power station
where the volume of biomass to be burned is staggering. I look
at it and I think, "If you are going to burn it, then why
can we not extract the chemicals first?" You can extract
a lot of valuable chemicals in very large volume, given the volumes
we are talking about, and calorific value is not affected. In
fact, in many cases you can end up with a material that is easier
to co-fire with coal, for example. I have always believed that
for chemicals manufacturing we should sit alongside the energy
industry, not try to compete with it but go alongside it, taking
some of the higher value products, as we have learned from petroleum."
34. In terms of characterising the amount of
waste which may be available for use in a bioeconomy, it is also
important to note that the UK exports considerable amounts of
waste. This is discussed further in Chapter 3 of this report.
35. In addition to solid and liquid wastes, we
also heard that waste gases from industry represent potentially
important feedstocks for a bioeconomy.
A recent report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation described
carbon dioxide [CO2] as a 'rough diamond.'
This report identified CO2 as a high volume by-product
of manufacturing processes, which could be transformed into valuable
products using emerging technologies. This raises the possibility
of moving from carbon capture and storage to carbon capture and
reuse. The Government will need to be aware of this in developing
future policies. During our inquiry, the Industrial Biotechnology
Leadership Forum told us:
"Process gases from industry containing CO2,
CO and H2 are currently emitted to the atmosphere contributing
to the carbon footprint of many companies, something that they
are looking to reduce or avoid."
36. Dr Colin Tattam, Director of Operations,
Chemistry Innovation Knowledge Transfer Network, told us that
considerable quantities of industrial gases were emitted in the
North East of England:
process gases are an important consideration
and there is an abundant supply. Anecdotal evidence says that
there are probably about 10 million tonnes per annum out of the
north-east alone, perhaps 30 to 40 across the UK per annum in
total. That is an important consideration, and the very basic
answer to your question is that capturing and translating that
feedstock through to higher value products is not being done routinely
on that scale right now."
37. LanzaTech provided further information on
waste gases from a range of sources.
They told us that gas from steel mills, for example, represents
a potentially important feedstock for gas fermentation technologies:
"LanzaTech has evaluated in detail the potential
for ethanol production from the UK steel industry. The two plants
with the highest potential combined would yield over 300,000 tons
(>100 million gallons) per year of ethanol from Basic Oxygen
Furnace off gases alone. Blast furnace gases from all three UK
mills have the potential to yield over a million tons per year
(350 million gallons) of ethanol. Coke oven gases from UK steel
mills and coke production facilities could add up to another 600,000
tons of ethanol (>200 million gallons)."
38. In addition, LanzaTech told us that waste
gases from oil refineries, natural gas extraction and landfill
sites could be used. Defra told us that in 2011, nearly 300 million
tonnes of methane alone were emitted from industrial facilities,
including landfill sites and the energy sector.
39. It is important to note that the amount of
many types of waste is declining. For example, the Technology
Strategy Board, citing WRAP, told us that: "As an example,
looking at the food waste 2010 figures for UK household waste
totalled 12 million tonnes, with an additional 6.5 million tonnes
through supply chain activities. By 2011 household waste had reduced
by about 1Mt."
Solvert, a company specialising in the development of technology
to produce renewable chemicals from sustainable raw materials,
specifically the organic fraction of waste, noted that: "Although
it is important to promote waste reduction and reuse it is not
possible to eliminate waste at a national level."
WRAP echoed this point, stating:
"In the UK, 15 million tonnes of food waste
is generated each year. While great efforts are being made to
reduce the quantity of food waste being produced, for example
through WRAP's Love Food Hate Waste campaign, there will always
be an unavoidable portion of food waste (such as vegetable peelings,
tea bags and egg shells) which cannot be reused and therefore
must be treated."
40. In the view of Dr Ed Green from Green
Biologics, however: "There is lots of opportunity, even as
waste arisings continue to drop, for investment opportunities,
new technologies and so on." The Chartered Institution of
Wastes Management (CIWM) told us that: "Waste composition
and quantity is very far from static," noting that this is
influenced by many different factors.
The CIWM also noted difficulties with accurately forecasting future
waste composition. Declining or changing compositions of waste
may pose a challenge for a waste based bioeconomy and it will
be important that the available resource is effectively characterised
and that technology is developed which is able to deal with changing
waste streams. The Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) told us
that in order to be future-proofed against declining waste streams:
"The most effective bio-economy process plants
are designed with the flexibility to use more than one waste stream.
This gives the plant operator the opportunity to select the most
economically attractive or easily available feedstock. Without
this flexibility in feedstock it is highly unlikely that bio waste
based processes will be viable in the long-term."
41. The information we received indicated
that there are likely to be considerable amounts of waste which
could be used as a resource in a bioeconomy. There is, however,
no single source of this information and it has proved very difficult
to get a clear picture of the quantities available for use. In
our view, there is therefore an urgent need for improved information
on the availability, quantities and quality of waste now and in
the future. This is discussed further in Chapter 3 of this
42. During the course of this inquiry, we have
heard that there are significant opportunities for the growth
of a bioeconomy. We received a range of different estimates as
to the contribution waste could make towards this. The Department
for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), invited to supply information
on the overall potential size of the bioeconomy, stated that while
"the total value of the economic opportunity can only be
statistics suggest that we could be looking
at a total economic market of around £100bn."
BIS estimates that transport biofuels alone could have a value
of £60bn. Products derived from carbon-containing waste will
form only a proportion of this total value of £100bn.
43. There is also a significant market for renewable
chemicals, already estimated at $57bn worldwide and forecast to
rise to $83 billion by 2018.
The UK chemical industry currently has sales of over £60bn
per annum. The inquiry heard that around £6bn of this might
be replaced with renewable chemicals produced from waste materials.
Professor James Clarke from the University of York noted:
"We calculated that the amount of organic carbon
present in the food wastes, as calculated by the UN, is almost
the same as the amount of carbon we [the world] use in all of
the chemicals today."
44. Dr Peter Williams from INEOS told us
that bioethanol, derived from waste, could make a considerable
contribution to the UK's transport fuel needs:
at the moment about 13 million tonnes
of petrol is used in the UK, alongside diesel of course. If we
look at the waste available, even engineered waste such as a solid-recovered
fuel, probably about 25 million tonnes is available now. In principle,
with the right technology approach, that could be converted into
roughly 5 million tonnes of bioethanol. If we compare the 5 million
tonnes to the 13 million tonnes, that can have potentially a material
impact on fuel supply."
45. Figures provided by the Department for Transport
suggest that this could have a value of around £2.4 billion.
We also received evidence suggesting that a waste based bioeconomy
has the potential to create skilled jobs, particularly in rural
areas. Dr Philp
pointed to the importance of the chemicals sector to the UK. He
noted that the job creation opportunities for products higher
up the value chain, such as bio-based chemicals and other bio-materials,
were greater than for biofuels and energy applications.
"Whilst environmental aspirations for the bio-based
industries are important, the job creation possibilities are likely
to be at least as important a priority for policy makers
For every job created in the business of chemistry in the US,
7.6 jobs are created in other sectors,
and on average they are high-paying compared to other manufacturing
jobs. Meanwhile, modelling in Europe indicates that bio-based
chemicals and plastics production can support many more jobs than
biofuels and bioenergy applications. Carus et al. (2011) have
estimated that materials use can directly support 5-10 times more
employment and 4-9 times the value-added compared with energy
uses, principally due to longer, more complex supply chains for
46. It has been estimated that if all sustainably
available resources (agricultural residues, forestry residues
and refuse derived fuel) in the EU were to be used for advanced
biofuel production, in theory between 147 and 307 thousand jobs
could be created across Europe, with 38 to 43% of these jobs primarily
based in rural communities.
There is clearly a large amount of uncertainty associated with
these estimates and such analysis makes a number of necessary
assumptions in reaching these figures. During the inquiry, however,
we also received estimates of the number of jobs which could be
created by specific technologies or sectors. For example, the
Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Association told us that in the
UK, 35,000 jobs could be supported in the anaerobic digestion
sector. British Airways
told us that their Solena Greensky project "will provide
approximately 1,000 construction jobs and 180-200 permanent jobs
once in operation."
The Energy Technologies Institute told us that the gasification
technology developed under their projects had the potential to
sustain 2000 to 7000 jobs.
Meanwhile, Solvert told us that the technology they are currently
developing to divert bio-waste from landfill into the production
of high value commodity chemicals, has:
"the potential to create at least 32 waste to
chemical facilities generating over £2 billion of investment,
creating up to 1600 permanent jobs and over £300 million
positive contribution to the balance of trade."
47. We conclude that there are promising signs
that a waste based bioeconomy could deliver substantial economic
returns and support a considerable number of jobs. While there
is clearly uncertainty in these predictions, it seems, however,
that there is significant promise and the Government, industry
and academia should take steps to further characterise this opportunity
and ensure its full potential is realised.
48. There are potential environmental benefits
of using waste as a resource. It can divert bio-waste from landfill
and capture waste gases, reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In
addition, it reduces reliance on petrochemicals:
"The successful translation of research on utilising
wastes and other feedstocks could help to reduce petrochemical
use worldwide and help promote the use of renewables and potentially
sustainable alternatives, contributing for example to reducing
global carbon emissions."
49. A major objective of the regulations relating
to waste is to ensure its safe handling and to protect human health
and the environment. Once a material is classified as a waste,
it must be handled according to specific rules. The Environment
Agency, who have responsibility for enforcing regulations on waste,
as more material is diverted from landfill
and there is greater financial incentive within the biowaste sector
to take less proven materials and process greater volumes, there
is an increasing risk of harm to soil and the wider environment."
50. The Environment Agency noted, for example,
a relatively high number of pollution incidents associated with
waste permits for anaerobic digestion facilities. This illustrates
the need to ensure that appropriate measures are put in place
when making use of waste. The Environment Agency have been working
on 'End of Waste' quality protocols, to help simplify the regulatory
process associated with transforming a waste into a product. The
continued development of such protocols, which reduce the regulatory
burden of handling waste, whilst simultaneously ensuring environmental
protection, will be important for enabling waste to be used as
a feedstock for the bioeconomy.
51. The environmental benefits of using waste
as a feedstock will vary on a case by case basis. It will depend
on factors such as the environmental impacts associated with the
current route of disposal or use, the energy required to transform
it into a product, and the energy costs of transporting the waste
to a site where it can be used. One of the central aims of a bioeconomy
is to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and so it is important
that technologies deliver a positive greenhouse gas balance. As
noted by the Industrial Biotechnology Leadership Forum:
"Use of waste as feedstock reduces the amount
going to landfill or escaping process facilities and therefore
inherently is viewed more environmentally viable. However, all
cases must be considered on an individual basis. The environmental
viability and benefit needs to also consider logistics & transport,
energy to process and end of life aspects i.e. the whole life
cycle. However, the majority of LCA studies using lignocellulosic
feedstocks in the production of chemicals demonstrate environmental
benefits over petrochemical derived counterparts."
52. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a methodology
used for systematically evaluating the environmental footprint
of a product through all stages of its life cycle. It can be used
to compare the environmental footprint of using different feedstocks
or processes to generate products. The evidence we received suggested
that there are environmental benefits associated with specific
technologies or facilities. Virgin Atlantic told us that the technology
they are developing with LanzaTech for producing aviation fuel
from waste gases is anticipated to result in much lower greenhouse
"Initial Life Cycle Analyses suggest that the
resulting biofuel will emit 60% less carbon than the fossil fuel
it will replace, kerosene. Moreover, because it uses a waste-stream,
it creates a biofuel that does not impact on land use or food
53. INEOS Bio also indicated that the LCA for
a specific, proposed project on Teesside was estimated to have
lower GHG emissions than alternative approaches for using waste:
"The Eunomia life cycle GHG report for the proposed
Seal Sands, Teesside plant confirms that producing biofuel from
waste would be an environmentally sensible use of the waste as
a resource compared to the alternatives, including composting,
anaerobic digestion and biomass CHP."
54. We also heard that there are limitations
to LCA and outputs can be quite variable.
Dr Philp drew attention to an LCA of 60 bio-based chemicals,
noting that the majority saved greenhouse gas emissions. He also
observed, however, that it was difficult to predict the exact
savings with accuracy and stated that: "I do not think the
LCA is inaccurate. I think it is to do with the boundaries. One
of the things we have said is that internationally we need to
get this harmonised." Professor Murphy, an expert in
LCA from the University of Surrey, agreed that there are limitations
to LCA and explained how it should be used:
"LCA is a good tool when you have reasonable
data and clear and transparent system boundaries, you know what
your question is at the beginning of the analysis and you have
a very clear and transparent goal and scope. Then it works really
well and it is entirely possible to do formal uncertainty analysis
within an LCA, either by using measures of variation in the data
or by doing scenarios and sensitivity analyses, which any good
LCA is obliged to include according to the ISO standard in order
to test the reliability or the reproducibility of the result when
you vary important parameters."
55. Professor Greg Tucker from the University
of Nottingham noted that their LCA for converting wheat straw
into ethanol delivered:
"varying feedback on how much greenhouse gas
emissions would be reduced, ranging from about 10% to about 30%.
They all show positive reductions but how positive is quite a
wide range, and I think it does rely on the accuracy of the evidence
you are putting in as to how certain you are, and on the efficiency
of the model that you are using."
56. Professor Murphy noted that a positive
greenhouse gas balance was less likely to be seen if co-products
and by-products were diverted away from an existing use.
It will be important to take this into account, and to develop
agreed standards for LCA, which allow different products and processes
to be compared.
57. Although it can be difficult to provide
a precise evaluation of environmental impacts, the evidence we
received suggested that in general there are environmental benefits
from making use of waste as a resource. We conclude that more
consistent approaches for analysing environmental benefits are
needed so that the size of the opportunity can be better understood.
This is discussed further in Chapter 3 of this report.
24 Dr Philp, OECD (acting in a personal capacity). Back
IBLF, Q 67 (Professor Clark, University of York Green
Chemistry Centre). Back
LanzaTech, Virgin Atlantic, Dr Philp, Q 16 (Professor Tucker). Back
LanzaTech, Government supplementary evidence. Back
Q 45 (Professor Hunter). Back
RCUK, University of Nottingham, LanzaTech, Virgin Atlantic. Back
The Technology Readiness Level (TRL) describes the stage of development
of a technology from basic idea, through discovery and research,
innovation and finally commercialisation. Demonstration scale
is a stage immediately prior to commercialisation. Back
Dr Philp, OECD (acting in a personal capacity). Back
The integrated biorefinery concept. See: http://www.nrel.gov/biomass/biorefinery.html. Back
Royal Society of Chemistry. Back
Calysta Energy. Back
INEOS Bio, Virgin Atlantic, British Airways. Back
Q 46 (Dr Green). Back
Virgin Atlantic. Back
British Airways. Back
Q 56. Back
Dr Philp, OECD (acting in a personal capacity). Back
Government further supplementary evidence. Back
See: Defra (2011) Waste Data Overview http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20130123162956/
Government further supplementary evidence. Back
Q 130 (Peter Jones OBE). Back
See: http://archive.defra.gov.uk/environment/waste/ad/documents/implementation-plan2010.pdf. Back
Q 1 (Dr Tomkinson). Back
WRAP supplementary evidence. Back
Water UK. Back
Q 4. Back
British Airways Back
BSBEC, Q 2 (Dr Tomkinson) Back
ADAS (2008) Addressing the land use issues for non-food crops,
in response to increasing fuel and energy generation opportunities. Back
WRAP, WRAP supplementary evidence. Back
Q 54. Back
Ellen MacArthur Foundation (2014) Towards a Circular Economy
Volume 3. Back
Q 74. Back
Government supplementary evidence. Back
Government supplementary evidence. Back
Professor James Clark. Back
Q 73 (Dr Tattam). Back
Q 63. Back
Q 70. Back
This figure represents the cost of purchasing five million tonnes
of bioethanol on the wholesale market, using the wholesale ethanol
price of 10 January 2014. Back
INEOS Bio. Back
See: http://www.americanchemistry.com/Jobs. Back
Dr Philp, OECD (acting in a personal capacity). Back
NNFCC (2014) Use of sustainably-sourced residue and waste streams
for advanced biofuel production in the European Union: rural economic
impacts and potential for job creation. Back
British Airways. Back
Environment Agency. Back
Virgin Atlantic. Back
INEOS Bio. Back
Q 89. Back
Q 22. Back
Q 83. Back