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Oil-free fuel from agricultural waste

Unused waste from trees and crops could be turned into everyday products. © Shutterstock/Taina Sohlman
Unused waste from trees and crops could be turned into everyday products. © Shutterstock/Taina Sohlman

Europe’s agricultural by-products could be increasingly used to give people greener everyday commodities, such as oil-free vehicle fuel and bio-plastics, thanks to a planned multi-billion-euro partnership between the EU and industry.

The proposed Bio-Based Industries Initiative (BBI), means that the EU will help stimulate the use of by-products from agriculture, forestry and industry to replace products based on oil, such as PVC plastics and aircraft fuel.

‘By finding other ways of generating bio-based products and fuel from plants and waste, the bio-based industry will significantly cut our dependency on oil and help us meet climate change targets,' said Dr Antonio Di Giulio, Acting Director of Biotechnologies, Agriculture, and Food at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Research and Innovation.

The EU has teamed up with the Biobased Industry Consortium (BIC), a grouping of agriculture, forestry, chemicals, paper, pulp, biotechnology and energy firms, among others, for the BBI. It's one of five Joint Technology Initiatives (JTIs) that will be funded through the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, set to run from 2014 until 2020.

For every EUR 1 that the EU puts in, industry will contribute another EUR 2.8, up to a total of EUR 3.8 billion.

'The Public Private Partnership (PPP) is a great way of getting previously unrelated industries to talk to each other and develop totally new value chains,' said Berry Wiersum, Chief Executive of Sappi, a Belgium-based multinational pulp and paper company which is one of the BBI partners.

‘By finding other ways of generating fuel and other products from plants and waste, the bio-based industry will significantly cut our dependency on oil.'

Dr Antonio Di Giulio, Acting Director Biotechnologies, Agriculture and Food, European Commission DG Research and Innovation

Without public involvement, it can often be too risky and expensive for private companies to invest in the research necessary to turn agricultural waste into products like plastic and fuel. On top of that, individual companies can rarely bring new technology to market across the EU on their own.

That’s where the BBI can make a difference. At one end of the production chain, the BBI will help to find new sources of biomass, and at the other, it will try to support new markets for bio-based products by, for example, helping to create new standards and through public procurement.


In the middle come biorefineries, which can turn renewable raw materials into plastic and fuel.

One example of what could be achieved under the BBI is EuroBioRef, a biorefinery design project which received EUR 23 million funding under FP7, the EU’s current research funding programme. EuroBioRef will use multiple types of biomass - such as grasses, agricultural, and forestry residues - to generate plastics, industrial chemicals, and oil-free aviation fuel.

EuroBioRef wants to improve cost efficiency by 30 %, and produce no waste. The biorefinery is made of optional modules, so that it can be installed in different locations as a large or small unit depending on the conditions. Installations like this could help the BBI create tens of thousands of new jobs across Europe, its backers hope. Not only that, public involvement in resources like EuroBioRef are designed to help make Europe a global leader in bio-based products.

‘The bio-based economy race with the USA, China, and Brazil makes it essential to join public and private forces to translate the EU’s innovation potential into commercial-scale products and tap into the estimated EUR 200 billion global value of the sector,’ said BIC Executive Director, Dirk Carrez.

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