Replacing Hydrocarbons with the Bio-Based Economy: The Path Forward
Insight Here are 6 rules for your company to be successful in the bio-economy.
Imagine if we could replace 90 percent of the oil-produced products we consume with products derived instead from biomass. Well, in fact, paints, plastics, solvents, personal care products, fuels, and energy can all be developed using bio-based chemistry. With nine percent of the world’s forests and vast agricultural resources, Canada should be part of this coming industrial revolution.
The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) estimates that the world market for biomass-based energy, fuels, materials, and chemicals will represent up to $5.8 trillion USD by about 2025. Canada is in an ideal position to capitalize on this emerging market.
But how can companies in the industrial bioeconomy space achieve commercial success? The key is to focus on these rules of thumb.
What works at pilot may not scale to demo, and even if it does, you may max out individual process operations. Fail early. It costs less.
Getting to the commercial stage is going to take longer and cost more than you imagine. Partner with investors who demand high performance and are patient enough to see you achieve that prior to financing your next stage of development.
Secure firm offtake agreements, not with distributors, but directly with customers. If future customers also invest, you know they’re committed to your project.
Focus on creating short-term cash flow to pay down debt. If this requires pivoting, then pivot.
Once you’re up and running, you have to operate continuously. Process integration is key.
But frame what you are bringing to the market such that governments see you are meeting their policy objectives.
One more thing. Just because you’ve demonstrated economic viability, doesn’t mean your proposed project will be financeable. Potential strategic investors have fiduciary responsibilities to shareholders. Ventures that are new and potentially risky will be highly scrutinized. Often, these strategics will choose to flow investments to safer, core businesses.
To overcome this investment hesitation, borrowers must convince lenders that all risks can be managed. This includes technology, construction completion, operating, feedstock, off-take, and management team risk. The borrower’s responsibility is to off-load these risks to parties best able to assume them.
And governments? Well, price drives substitution. And the most efficient policy to motivate investment in cleantech is a substantial carbon tax — one that makes a material difference in the boardrooms of public companies. The higher the price of carbon, the more likely boardrooms will demand a switch from hydrocarbons towards a sustainable carbohydrate economy. It’s not for the faint of heart. But it’s what’s needed if technology innovation is to simultaneously grow the economy while meeting the world’s climate change obligations.