The bioeconomy is becoming increasingly important in public policy, especially in the European Union and the USA. It is described either as a new biotechnological industrial revolution, or as a great transition toward the use of renewable resources, both of these through the development of ‘biorefineries’. To organize the transition, agro-industry, and the chemical, wood and biotechnology industries are involved in intensive institutional work. This work aims to problematize the organization of this new industrial bioeconomy, its links with other sectors, and the regulation of the change. To do so, public policies support backcasting exercises and roadmap development. However, the history of this transition toward the use of renewable resources shows that similar problematizations were conducted in the past. We look at two historical periods. First, very similar promises to those of today were formulated in the 1930s, by the USA chemurgy movement. Second, during the 1980s, the chemical industry became interested in sugar following the oil crisis of the 1970s. During this period the problematization of the biorefinery as a structuring artefact emerged. In this paper, we review these two historical periods to interpret today’s ‘visions of the future’ from a historical perspective. We conclude this study by comparing and contrasting former and current tensions.
- natural resources