In order to find answers to these questions, we conducted an explorative study on behalf of the Ministry of domestic affairs and in collaboration with the landscape architecture firm BOOM Landscape, into the opportunities for growing crops related to biobased construction in the Netherlands. We did this with a ‘calculate-and-sketch’ approach.
With BOOM Landscape responsible for the sketching process, they created a blueprint, based on research, that shows the various opportunities and possibilities that a biobased production landscape provides. We acted as calculator and developed a tool that maps both the social and economic value of a biobased crop.
Cultivation systems for biobased production and building
In the research phase, we first made an inventory of those crops suitable for processing into biobased building materials. For example, we explored the revenue models of flax, hemp, reed, native tree species such as poplar and oak, and novel crops such as miscanthus and bulrush. Through desk research and interviews with experts within relevant sectors, we gathered important insights into the values and business cases of these crops.
We then utilized these insights as input in the calculation tool that we created and established factsheets about the various crops. The subsequent analysis shows that, under the current conditions, there is no financially sound business case for biobased crop cultivation. The bottlenecks relate to high cultivation costs, the lack of a stable demand side of the market, the absence of a healthy pricing system for fibre materials and the lack of valuation of the social, climate-related and ecological services that these crops provide or could potentially enable, in the landscape.
However, the introduction of biobased crops does result in the reduction of nitrogen and greenhouse gas emissions compared to the current land use practises. By virtue of the crops being used as sustainable building material, carbon absorbed by these crops will be stored into prospective buildings. In addition, the resulting cultivation systems will prove beneficial for the landscape and for users and residents by providing a variety of services.
To see how biobased crops can be brought to fruition in an area, three case studies have been constructed: 1) urban fringes, 2) a peat meadow and 3) an arable area on clay soil. In these design studies, we mapped out the challenges and opportunities in the area, in collaboration with BOOM Landscape. We then linked the relevant biobased cultivation crops to the prospective areas: in the scenario of the urban fringes of Utrecht, for example, we opted for standard fruit orchards, which align with historical land use, have recreational and aesthetic benefits, and produce wood.
By selecting the biobased cultivation crops that fit the landscape and the area specifics, we designed a scenario blueprint which exhibits a mosaic landscape of biobased crops.
In this way, the design studies result in the mapping of ecological, social and landscape values which can be realized whilst growing crops for the biobased construction industry. Special attention is dedicated to the business cases for farmers that opt for cultivating various biobased crops vis a vis the business cases of current, often traditional, land use systems.
Layered map of, and blueprint for, the design-study in Groot Haarzuilens – on the outskirts of Utrecht
(Images: BOOM Landscape)
Bottlenecks in cultivation procedures for biobased construction: faltering demand, cultivation inefficiency and missing processing chains
(Images: BOOM Landscape)
In order to realize the transition to biobased cultivation and building, it is necessary to improve the economic perspective that farmers have. Without improving the revenue model for biobased cultivation, it remains very unattractive for farmers to switch to the production of biobased materials. The explorative results provide recommendations for improving the business case of biobased crop cultivation along two axes: 1) the increase of crop balance and 2) the value societal services.
A selection of the recommendations described in the survey:
- Stimulate the demand for biobased building materials by including conditions for the use of these materials in tenders.
- Facilitate chain-cooperation in order to ensure a good yield price: governments can, for example, support or create platforms for cooperation, but also cover cultivation risks by offering a guaranteed uptake of abundant crops.
- In order to realize an holistic valuation of the social services that biobased crop cultivation can offer, it is essential that governments organize a payment scheme for societal services which assures actual compensation.
As part of the research, we developed a calculation tool that enables comparing the earning capacity of biobased cultivation crops amongst each other and with reference scenarios. In this tool, the economic and societal costs and benefits of producing various crops for the biobased construction industry are mapped. The tool serves several purposes:
To provide primary insight into the earning capacity of the various biobased cultivation crops for farmers;
To provide insight into the societal value that these crops offer;
To enable comparison between the earning capacity of crops for biobased construction vis a vis conventional agricultural land use.
To provide insights into the gaps that need bridging before arriving at a healthy and future-proof business case.
Next to the calculation tool, a supportive manual has been written. Aside from explaining the calculation tool, this manual serves as an guide to explicate which method to use in which scenario.
In 2023, the model will be developed further. Where appropriate, parameters will be updated based on market developments.
We therefore kindly request you to contact us with inquiries about, or ideas for further development of the tool by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Feedback too, can be directed to this e-mail-address.