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Novel secondary bio-based chemicals without significant fossil-based counterparts but with high application potential - BBI.2017.R7
Deadline: Sep 7, 2017  


Specific Challenge:

Products derived from petrochemical feedstock have extensive downstream production routes, developed markets and an efficient infrastructure. Therefore, making the ‘same’ chemicals from biomass and ‘blending’ them into these existing value chains (known as ‘drop-in’ chemicals) is the quickest and most cost-effective way to implement bio-based value chains in the short term. However, there are some bio-based molecules without a ‘significant’ fossil counterpart1 that industry and researchers regard as promising in the medium to long term, due to their special functional properties or possible derivatives.

While the production processes for bio-based chemicals with no significant fossil-based counterpart could be made more economical and sustainable, there is as yet no infrastructure for their further use, making them less attractive for now.

Like petrochemical building blocks such as benzene and p-xylene, these bio-based building blocks (for example levulinic acid, muconic acid and hydroxy­methyl­furfuraldehyde) do not have direct applications, but are the basis for a wealth of other chemicals that can bring renewability and sustainability in many markets.

Technically, the production of those ‘primary’ bio-based building blocks is in many cases already at TRL 4-5 (see topic BBI 2017.D3). However, their conversion into ‘secondary’ products is often still at TRL 2-3, as there is a low level of insight into their applicability in existing fossil-based value chains. Aside from providing the proof of principle of the new functionality and performance of new secondary bio-based products, industry also needs to develop and validate sustainable production routes.

The specific challenge is to validate at lab or pilot level the production routes from primary bio-based building blocks to breakthrough bio-based chemicals with no significant fossil counterpart, and to show a proof of principle for the added value they bring to the market.

1 Molecules having no fossil-based production route, or whose fossil-based production route(s) – while technically possible – is not commercially pursued because of cost or sustainability issues.


Validate (either at lab scale, or at pilot scale in an industrially relevant environment) a production process for bio-based chemicals with no significant fossil-based counterpart, resulting from primary bio-based building blocks. The primary building blocks must be obtained from sustainably sourced biomass of European origin.

Proposals should aim to validate a production route for at least one ‘secondary’ bio-based chemical building block that does not have a ‘significant’ fossil-based counterpart. The targeted building block should have the potential to drive the subsequent production of high added-value products in specific market sectors. In addition, proof of principle has to be shown for at least one application.

The new performance can be as a secondary building block for a variety of applications ranging from polymers and plasticisers to other intermediate building blocks. However, it can also have direct applications as lubricants, hydraulic fluids, solvents, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.

Biotechnological processes could be effective for this purpose as microbial enzymes are highly selective and work in relatively mild conditions. This makes it possible to produce complex structures, while preserving existing functionalities. However, thermo- and chemo-catalytic processes also fall within the scope of this topic. They should ensure high reaction yields, high selectivity for the target product and high productivity levels. In this way, they will efficiently pave the way to a further scale-up of the developed process(es) to enable an expanding market entrance for products based on the chemical.

Proposals should justify the selection of the targeted molecules in terms of their intended application, with supporting economic quantification of the targeted markets. Proposals should also show the feasible, sustainable and economic supply of European biomass for these applications via the primary building block.

The industry should actively participate to prove the potential for integrating the developed concepts into current industrial landscapes or existing plants so that deployment of the concepts can be accelerated and scaled up to an industrial level.

Proposals should specifically demonstrate the benefits versus the state-of-the-art and existing technologies. This could be done by providing evidence of new processing solutions and new products obtained. Proposals should also deliver a preliminary economic feasibility study, providing the basis for upscaling the technology to an industrial level.

The Technology Readiness Level (TRL)1 at the end of the project should be 4-52,3. Proposals should clearly state the starting and target TRLs. The proposed work should enable the technology to achieve the target TRL within the timeframe of the project.

The compliance of the target molecules with all standards and regulations (including the REACH regulation) should be assessed, taking also into account their potential final applications.

Proposals should include an environmental assessment using Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodologies, and a cost analysis. Proposals should also include a viability performance check of the developed process(es) based on available standards, certification, accepted and validated approaches.

Indicative funding: It is considered that proposals requesting a contribution of EUR 2 million to maximally EUR 5 million would allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude the submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.

1 Technology Readiness Levels as defined in annex G of the General Annexes to the Horizon 2020 Work Programme:

2 TRL 5 requires that the technology be ‘validated in [a] relevant environment (industrially relevant environment in the case of key enabling technologies).’ For industry, this means at ‘pilot scale’ (meaning beyond and larger than ‘at lab scale’), preferably at an industrial site. TRL 4 is at ‘lab scale’.

3 For an Innovation Action – Demonstration Action with a similar objective but TRL 6-7 see Topic BBI 2017.D3.

Expected Impact:

  • contribute to KPI 1: create at least 1 new cross-sector interconnection in bio-based economy clusters;
  • contribute to KPI 2: establish at least 1 new bio-based value chain;
  • contribute to KPI 4: create at least 1 new building block with no significant fossil-based counterpart;
  • contribute to KPI 5: set the basis for at least 1 new bio-based material with high potential for upscaling to flagship level;
  • contribute to KPI 6: create at least 2 new demonstrated consumer products based on bio-based chemicals and materials that meet market requirements;
  • develop processes and technologies that are more efficient (for example in terms of process yields and purity of the target products) and sustainable (for example lower energy requirements, milder operating conditions) than the state-of-the-art process to obtain the same target molecules.
Cross-cutting Priorities:

Cross-cutting Key-Enabling Technologies (KETs)

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