New chain partners in bioeconomy must build up trust

4 June 2014

To make the bioeconomy successful, new value chains are needed in which farmers, chemists, energy companies and other partners collaborate closely together. These parties often have very different expectations and that is a potential stumbling block for the bioeconomy. Knowledge brokers can play a role in realising the new value chains and in enabling these to function smoothly. These are the conclusions of Dr Lotte Asveld and Dr Jurgen Ganzevles based on the research they carried out in the NWO programme Responsible Innovation and for which they cooperated intensively with companies and NGOs. The research was realised under the supervision of professor Patricia Osseweijer and will be presented soon.

New chain partners in bioeconomy must build up trustBiogas installations are turning up on farm yards.

In a bioeconomy, biomass is a raw material for a series of products: medicines, foodstuffs, chemical materials, transport fuels and energy. Technology philosopher Dr Lotte Asveld (Delft University of Technology) and technology sociologist Dr Jurgen Ganzevles (Radboud University Nijmegen) investigated the expected social barriers to the transition towards a bioeconomy and how these can be overcome. For this research they worked closely with stakeholders in the new bioeconomy, including representatives from Eneco, DSM, Stichting Natuur & Milieu, the Rabobank, waste processor Van Gansewinkel, consultants and a province. These partners gave direction to the research, functioned as a sounding board and presented pioneering projects that were extensively analysed by the researchers. For a pig flat, a biogas factory and the application of synthetic biology they used interviews and media and literature research to analyse what went well, what proved to be a barrier and which arguments played a role in the public discussion.

New phase for agriculture

The development of the bioeconomy is expected to have a major impact on agriculture. The farmer will change from being predominantly a food producer into an entrepreneur who runs a far broader operation. As biomass such as manure, oilseed rape, grass or algae is often wet and therefore difficult to transport over a large distance, it is economically attractive to bring production and processing close together. Processing installations will therefore be built close to or even on the farmer's land. Up to a certain point the chemical, agricultural and energy sectors could even be integrated. To make the bioeconomy efficient and profitable, technology will play an increasingly larger role. These developments will signal a new phase in the industrialisation of agriculture, which is already appearing in the form of biogas installations on the farm, and it is likely that this trend will develop further.

Divergent perspectives

To make the bioeconomy successful, far-reaching collaborations between farmers, foresters and chemists will be needed, for example. These are new partners, strangers to each other, who hold divergent perspectives. For example, they differ in their expectations about the quality of biomass or they need to adjust to a new role. Farmers accept that biomass is highly variable in composition because it is a natural product. Chemists, however, require a constant quality that is necessary for the industrial process. Foresters are used to viewing pruned wood as waste and then it does not matter whether this is mixed with stones or clods of earth. For the processors, however, pruned wood is a raw material for which the purity is important. Differences in expectations, requirements, and interpretations need to be made explicit, but the shared interests also need to be emphasised, state the researchers. Only then can a value chain develop in which the partners trust each other and can work together effectively. Knowledge brokers or codes of conduct could play a role in realising this.

New chain partners in bioeconomy must build up trustPig flats like this one, containing 13000 pigs, are relatively innocuous for the environment and animal welfare, but can still count on resistance from the public.

Public dialogue

The emerging bioeconomy will also need to build up healthy relationships with society in the broadest sense. Further industrialisation of rural areas will clash with images of the public who value the relatively undisturbed agricultural landscape. The use of genetic technology or synthetic biology is accepted in an industrial setting but in an open environment will come up against objections from the environmental movement. The researchers have produced a range of recommendations to deal with these problems: guarantee safety, reduce inconvenience, involve nearby residents in the change, design installations that fit in the landscape, keep things small scale and focus on the common objective: substituting harmful fossil fuels for sustainable biomass and closing the value chain by obtaining everything from nature that nature can offer.

Economic justice and injustice

In the discussion about biotechnology the researchers propose shifting the emphasis from ecological risks to economic injustice because at present this elicits the most resistance. For example, the monopoly position of the crop producers must be reviewed. A dialogue between companies and the environmental movement seems to be increasingly possible according to the researchers. It is interesting that concepts originally devised by the environmental movement have now been taken onboard by companies in their own jargon.

The project KINESIS, realised under the leadership of Professor Patricia Osseweijer, is part of a broader research project for the NWO programme Responsible Innovation: Towards a bio-based future: joining forces to maximize conditions of success for the transition towards a more natural and sustainable global food chain. This project is being carried out under the leadership of professor Hub Zwart (Radboud University Nijmegen) and will continue until January 2015.

 

Source: NWO

Details

Science area

Humanities

Programme

Responsible innovation

Objective

Collaboration in themes (2011-2014)

Interview Fokke Goudswaard

Read a short interview with Fokke Goudswaard, former staff member at Eneco and now representing the Netherlands Bioenergy Association, participated in the KINESIS project.