Bio-Based Chemicals and Feedstocks

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

Bio-based chemicals and feedstocks are derived from renewable biological resources, such as plants, algae, and microorganisms, as opposed to traditional fossil fuel-based sources. They serve as building blocks for a wide range of products in the chemical and fertilizer industries, offering a more sustainable and environmentally friendly alternative to petroleum-derived counterparts.

Impact on climate action

Bio-Based Chemicals and Feedstocks offer a transformative shift towards sustainability in chemical production. By replacing fossil fuels with renewable sources, they significantly reduce carbon emissions and dependence on finite resources. This innovation fosters a crucial pathway for achieving climate goals, driving a paradigm shift in the industry towards greener practices.


  • Biomass Conversion: Bio-based chemicals and feedstocks are produced by converting biomass through various processes, including:
    • Extraction: Isolating valuable compounds directly from plant material (e.g., essential oils, cellulose).
    • Fermentation: Utilizing microorganisms to break down biomass and produce desired chemicals (e.g., ethanol, lactic acid).
    • Thermochemical Conversion: Using heat and pressure to transform biomass into bio-oils, syngas, and other valuable products.
  • Biorefineries: These integrated facilities process biomass to produce a range of bio-based products, including chemicals, fuels, and materials, maximizing resource utilization and minimizing waste.
  • Synthetic Biology: Engineering microorganisms to produce specific chemicals or enhance biomass conversion processes is a rapidly developing field with significant potential for bio-based chemical production.

TRL : Varies depending on the specific chemical and technology. Some bio-based chemicals, like ethanol and lactic acid, are already produced at commercial scale (TRL 9), while others are still in the research and development phase (TRL 3-5).

Prominent Innovation themes

  • Novel Bio-Based Feedstocks: Research focuses on identifying and developing new sources of biomass for bio-based chemical production, including non-food crops, algae, and agricultural residues.
  • Advanced Conversion Technologies: Scientists are developing more efficient and sustainable biomass conversion technologies, such as enzymatic hydrolysis, ionic liquids pretreatment, and supercritical fluid extraction.
  • Designer Microorganisms: Synthetic biology is being used to engineer microorganisms that can produce specific chemicals with higher yields and lower costs, expanding the range of possible bio-based products.
  • Integrated Biorefineries: Developing integrated biorefineries that can produce multiple products from biomass is a key innovation for improving the economic viability and sustainability of bio-based chemical production.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Biomass Extraction Techniques
  • Microbial Fermentation Processes
  • Thermochemical Biomass Conversion
  • Integrated Biorefinery Systems
  • Synthetic Biology Applications
  • Non-Food Biomass Exploration
  • Algae-Based Feedstock Development
  • Agricultural Residue Utilization
  • Enzymatic Hydrolysis Optimization
  • Ionic Liquids Pretreatment Methods
  • Supercritical Fluid Extraction Technology
  • Enhanced Chemical Yield Strategies
  • Cost-Effective Bio-Based Production
  • Multi-Product Biorefinery Design
  • Sustainability in Chemical Manufacturing
  • Renewable Feedstock Sourcing
  • Green Chemistry Innovations
  • Bioproduct Diversification
  • Economic Viability Assessment

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  • GFBiochemicals:
    • Technology Focus: GFBiochemicals specializes in producing bio-based chemicals, particularly levulinic acid and its derivatives, from biomass feedstocks. Their technology involves advanced biotechnological processes and sustainable chemistry.
    • Uniqueness: They are one of the few companies globally capable of commercially producing levulinic acid at scale, offering a renewable alternative to petrochemicals.
    • End-User Segments: GFBiochemicals’ products find applications in various industries, including pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals, flavors and fragrances, and as intermediates for other specialty chemicals.
  • MycoTechnology:
    • Technology Focus: MycoTechnology specializes in using fungi-based biotechnology to improve food products. They utilize fungi to enhance flavor, reduce bitterness, and improve the nutritional profile of foods.
    • Uniqueness: Their technology offers a natural and sustainable alternative to chemical additives and processes traditionally used in food production.
    • End-User Segments: MycoTechnology serves the food and beverage industry, addressing consumer demand for healthier, tastier, and more sustainable food products.
  • Solazyme (now TerraVia):
    • Technology Focus: Solazyme focuses on producing renewable oils and ingredients through microalgae fermentation. They produce oils and biomaterials that can replace traditional sources derived from petroleum.
    • Uniqueness: Their technology allows for the production of tailored oils with specific functionalities, such as high stability, nutritional benefits, and biofuel properties.
    • End-User Segments: Solazyme’s products cater to industries such as food and nutrition, personal care, and renewable fuels, offering sustainable alternatives that reduce environmental impact.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  • Wageningen University & Research (Netherlands):
    • Technology Enhancements: Researchers at Wageningen are pioneering the development of bio-based chemicals and feedstocks by leveraging biotechnological advancements. They are focusing on genetically engineered microorganisms and enzymatic processes to convert biomass into valuable chemical compounds.
    • Uniqueness of Research: Wageningen’s approach emphasizes the use of sustainable agricultural residues and biomass as feedstocks for chemical production. Their research integrates bioprocess engineering with molecular biology to optimize production yields and reduce energy consumption.
    • End-use Applications: The bio-based chemicals developed at Wageningen have applications in agriculture, pharmaceuticals, and consumer goods sectors. For instance, bio-based fertilizers and crop protection agents derived from renewable sources offer environmentally friendly alternatives to conventional chemical inputs.
  • University of California, Berkeley (USA):
    • Technology Enhancements: UC Berkeley researchers are advancing bio-based chemicals and feedstocks through innovative catalytic processes and biorefinery technologies. They are developing novel catalysts and reactor designs to convert biomass into high-value chemicals with reduced carbon footprint.
    • Uniqueness of Research: UC Berkeley’s research integrates principles of green chemistry with materials science to design efficient processes for bio-based chemical production. Their focus includes developing scalable methods for extracting and refining bio-based feedstocks from agricultural and forestry residues.
    • End-use Applications: The bio-based chemicals from UC Berkeley’s research find applications in renewable energy, biodegradable plastics, and specialty chemicals industries. By replacing fossil-based chemicals with bio-based alternatives, their research supports sustainable development goals and reduces dependency on finite resources.
  • Technical University of Denmark (DTU):
    • Technology Enhancements: DTU researchers are at the forefront of developing bio-based chemicals and feedstocks using advanced biotechnological tools and process optimization techniques. They are exploring microbial fermentation and enzymatic conversion pathways to produce high-purity chemicals from renewable feedstocks.
    • Uniqueness of Research: DTU’s approach combines bioprocess engineering with synthetic biology to design microorganisms capable of efficiently converting biomass into target chemicals. Their research aims to overcome challenges such as substrate variability and product purity in bio-based chemical production.
    • End-use Applications: The bio-based chemicals developed at DTU have applications in food additives, cosmetics, and biofuels industries. For example, bio-based polymers and specialty chemicals derived from sustainable sources offer superior performance and environmental benefits compared to traditional chemical counterparts.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

Several bio-based chemicals are already being produced at commercial scale. For example:

  • Bio-Ethanol: This biofuel is widely used as a gasoline additive and is produced from corn, sugarcane, and other feedstocks through fermentation.
  • Bio-Based Plastics: Biodegradable plastics, such as PLA (polylactic acid) and PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoates), are increasingly being used in packaging and other applications. They are produced from renewable resources like corn starch and sugarcane.
  • Bio-Based Surfactants: These cleaning agents are derived from plant oils and sugars, offering a sustainable alternative to petroleum-based surfactants.