Royal DSM CEO Predicts Shift to Bio-based Economy Starts Now

During today’s plenary lunch session at BIO’s 2011 World Congress in Toronto, Royal DSM CEO Feike Sijbesma gave a passionate keynote address and accepted the 2011 George Washington Carver Award for his company’s efforts to promote bio-based products over those relying on fossil-fuel resources. The award is named after Carver, one of the founding fathers of the chemurgy movement, a branch of applied chemistry focused on preparing industrial products from raw agricultural materials. Biotechnology is the modern-day equivalent, and the award honors individuals for carrying on Carver’s legacy.

Sijbesma explained that DSM has carried on this legacy throughout its 190 year history by continually adapting its business to the capabilities and needs of the world around it. He described how DSM has transformed from a coal company, to a petrochemical company, to a life sciences technology company today that is working feverishly to speed the transition to a bio-based economy, a global approach to manufacturing and living based on resources derived from biotechnology as opposed to fossil fuels. He asserted throughout his speech that we have been living in a “fossil age” for approximately the past 100 years, and that he believes that we are now on the cusp of a shift to a new bio-based economy age.

Sijbesma told the audience that given current resource and demand realities, including expected population growth, the need to address climate change and expected rise in fossil fuel prices, the world cannot continue to meet only five percent of its energy needs from renewable resources. He expressed excitement to be a part of the necessary shift to a bio-based economy and remarked that those in attendance should feel the same.   

By the same token, he explained that the “fossil age” did not begin fully developed and full of large operating biorefineries, so we should be patient as we work toward the full development of the bio-based economy. Key to this effort, he remarked, will be legislation and regulations that compliment and incentivize continued industry work throughout the world. Additionally, he explained that as biomaterials and biofuels will surely be a part of the bio-based economy, the industry will need to come together to provide regulatory solutions. For instance, he suggested that the industry can and should inform solutions to the life cycle analysis and food v. fuel debates. Regarding the latter, Sijbesma argued that it is possible to grow sufficient food and fuel to meet the needs of the new bio-based economy going forward.

In sum, Sijbesma asserted that in the future, we will all “live from materials on the land, not from the land. This shift will start now.”  Congratulations to Royal DSM and all the biotechnology companies contributing to this important shift.