Our current economy is a fossil-based economy. We are dependent upon oil and gas for our electricity, cooling and heating, fuels for transport, as well as for the production of materials and chemicals. A bio-based economy on the other hand, is not dependent upon fossil resources but is based on biomass. The bio-based economy can be seen as a part of a broader green economy. A green economy uses biomass, but also runs on wind and solar energy and encompasses resource efficient industries that fall outside the sphere of biomass production and usage. Strictly speaking fossil resources are also made up of biomass, but these came into being over millions of years, while biomass like plants and trees can be used immediately. There are several types of biomass that can have valuable applications in the bio-based economy.
Examples of biomass are numerous:
At present, biomass is already used in quite a number of industries. Biomass is of course the basis for food and feed, but we also use biomass in industries such as the paper and construction sector. However, biomass could be used in more industries and for many more applications. Biomass could substitute oil in pharmaceutical applications, fine chemicals, chemical building blocks, plastics and it is already used for the production of fuels, heat and electricity.
Unlike fossil resources, biomass is a renewable resource. Plants, trees and all other sorts of biomass will not be depleted, since they can grow over and over again. But although biomass is a renewable resource, it is not, at a given time, an unlimited re- source. Its production is dependent on resources such as land, nutrients and water, which are limited in nature. If we would rapidly increase our biomass consumption overnight, land previously used in other ways needs to be diverted to biomass production. This could come at the expense of food production (and hence cause rising food prices) or tropical rainforests (and hence cause biodiversity loss).
Therefore, limits exist to the amount of biomass that can be produced sustainably. It is of utmost importance that we use the sustainably available biomass in the smartest way possible and that we increase the yield on the available land without compromising on sustainability.