A new dawn for (oil) incumbents within the bioeconomy? Trade-offs and lessons for policy
Journal article, 2020
This paper develops a more detailed understanding of when incumbent actors may become the main locomotive driving energy transitions. It also illustrates the trade-offs between policy approaches that actively seek to involve the incumbents in transitions, and policy approaches that pursue transitions without their active involvement. The paper examines state support for the bioeconomy in Sweden and concludes that public investments have been geared towards large-scale, complex and integrated biorefineries that are dependent on the active participation of the forest industry. Incumbents in the forest industry have, however, both lacked motivation and the abilities required to take the necessary steps for commercialisation of the demonstrated concepts. Instead, a rather small investment in a joint venture between actors from the forestry and oil refinery industry in Sweden has spurred learning and revenues; and it has placed an oil refinery at the centre of the future development of what we here term distributed biorefining. The main trade-off is that while this shift has opened up for cross-industrial collaborations and the production of advanced biofuels and materials, it has also paved the way for further investments in existing fossil-fuel infrastructure.