The European Bioeconomy: making the concept a reality
The European Commission has launched the pilot website of the European Bioeconomy Observatory, marking the latest evidence of progress towards making the European Bioeconomy Strategy a reality. The Observatory is the first attempt to gather and present in one place vital data about the development of the bioeconomy. It will be a critical resource for policy-makers, business people and other stakeholders designing the policies and investments at national and regional level. The pilot website is being launched at a major conference in Turin organised by the Italian Presidency of the EU, which aims to shift the focus from developing the concept of the bioeconomy to its practical delivery on the ground. An innovative bioeconomy is vital for the re-industrialisation of Europe and could produce 1.6 million new jobs by 2020 and 90.000 by 2030 in the maritime and bio-based chemical sectors alone. The European Bioeconomy Panel and the Standing Committee on Agricultural Research will release new reports at the conference, with the latest thinking on how to realise the potential of Europe's bioeconomy.
What progress has been made in implementing the European Bioeconomy Strategy?
Adopted by the European Commission in 2012, the European Bioeconomy Strategy aims to pave the way to a more innovative, resource-efficient and competitive economy that reconciles food security with the sustainable use of renewable biological resources for industrial and energy purposes. The strategy is built on three pillars: investments in research, innovation and skills; reinforced policy interaction and stakeholder engagement; and the enhancement of markets and competitiveness in bioeconomy.
Research, innovation and skills: Over €4 billion is available to support bioeconomy-related research and innovation under Horizon 2020 – over twice the budget available under the previous 7th Framework Programme. The results of the first call for proposals under Societal Challenge 2 of Horizon 2020 - “Food security, sustainable agriculture, marine and maritime research, and the bioeconomy” – will be published in November. It included opportunities to apply for funding for research and innovation on sustainable food security, on blue growth (unlocking the potential of seas and oceans), and on creating an innovative, sustainable and inclusive bioeconomy.
Policy interaction and stakeholder engagement: In early 2013 the European Commission initiated a three-year project to set up the Bioeconomy Observatory in order to regularly assess the progress and impact of the bioeconomy. At the Bioeconomy Stakeholders Conference in Turin, hosted by the Italian Government and co-financed by the European Commission, a pilot version of the Bioeconomy Observatory website,, including a first set of data on the bioeconomy, is being launched. The website, designed and managed by the Commission's in-house science service, the Joint Research Centre, will be further built up over time providing policy-makers and stakeholders with reference data and analyses for policy development and investments in the bioeconomy. The Commission has also established the European Bioeconomy Panel to support interactions among different policy areas, sectors and stakeholders in the bioeconomy. The Panel was created with 30 members representing business and producers, policy-makers, the scientific community and civil society. On the occasion of the Bioeconomy Stakeholders' Conference in Turin, the panel is releasing issues papers on biomass supply and market-making in the bioeconomy.
Markets and competitiveness: The Bio-based Industries Joint Technology Initiative is a public-private partnership Public-Private Partnership (PPP) between the EU and the Bio-based Industries Consortium (BIC). A total of €3.7 billion will be invested in bio-based innovations over 2014-2020. The EU contribution (Horizon 2020) will be €975 million, while the Bio-based Industries Consortium will contribute €2730 million (of which €1755 million will be dedicated to additional activities such as Flagship projects). As an emerging industry, it will be important to use this PPP to leverage capital markets and additional private and public funds (e.g. synergies with EU Structural Funds) to top up existing public and private commitments. It is dedicated to realising the European bioeconomy potential, turning biological residues and wastes into greener everyday products through innovative technologies and biorefineries. It should result in at least 10 new bio-based value chains, and 5 advanced biorefineries. The first call for proposals of the Bio-based Industries Joint Technology Initiative was published in July 2014, with a closing date of 15 October. More information: website | factsheet
How is the bioeconomy good for Europe?
Innovative bio-based and food industries are vital for the re-industrialisation of Europe and the food and drink industry is already the single largest manufacturing sector in the EU. Research and innovation can be leveraged to create a new, resource-efficient industrial paradigm based on industrial symbiosis and collaboration across traditional industries – often transcending traditional distinctions between services and manufacturing.
The bioeconomy is also an important source of new jobs – especially at local and regional level, and in rural and coastal areas. It has been estimated that bio-based chemical production could represent 30% of all European chemical production by 2030, up from just 2% in 2005, providing 90.000 new jobs. Based on a coastline 7 times longer than that of the US, the EU's maritime economy could provide 1.6 million new jobs by 2020.
Bio-energy and marine energy will be an integral part of Europe's future energy security. Replacement of fossil raw materials with renewable biological resources is an indispensable component of a forward-looking climate change policy.
Climate change, extreme weather, the growing world population, reduced access to critical nutrients such as phosphates – these are just some of the factors that could significantly increase the risk of a major disruption of food supply. The challenges of food security are global, and the EU has an important to role to play in addressing them.
Where has the bioeconomy made a difference?
The bioeconomy encompasses the production of renewable biological resources and their conversion into food, feed, bio-based products and bioenergy. It includes agriculture, forestry, fisheries, food and pulp and paper production, as well as parts of chemical, biotechnological and energy industries.
Examples of the innovation-based bioeconomy in action:
Innovative multipurpose biorefineries for regional growth in Europe: The EUROBIOREF project, financed under the seventh EU Research Framework Programme (FP7), is an example of what could be undertaken on a more comprehensive scale under the new BBI JTI. Working with a €23 million EU contribution, EUROBIOREF demonstrated biorefinery scenarios that: handle separately different types of biomass, such as oil plants, lignocellulosics (e.g. grasses, willow), and agricultural and forestry residues; process them in different ways (chemical, biochemical, thermochemical); and produce multiple high added value bio-based products (e.g. chemicals, biopolymers and aviation biofuels). Furthermore, the developed scenarios are modular and flexible, so parts of biorefineries can be installed in various locations as a large- or small-scale unit depending on regional conditions. The project ended in early 2013.
Reducing the environmental impact of food packaging: Packaging materials can use up precious raw materials and are often difficult to dispose of. The European Union (EU)-funded SUCCIPACK project demonstrated ways of using a new material for the food packaging industry – bio-based polybutylene succinate (PBS) – that is expected to significantly reduce the environmental impact. The research organisations involved in the project are working with large industrial players and 10 small to medium-size enterprises to ensure the effective uptake of the project results by the food and packaging industry.
The breeding scheme promising a future for tuna: High demand and high prices are threating to drive the Bluefin tuna to extinction. Until now, scientists have been unable to rear bluefins in captivity. However, a European initiative has announced a breakthrough that could set the tuna on the path to recovery. A project called SELFDOTT (Self-sustained Aquaculture and Domestication of Bluefin Tuna) has succeeded in breeding Atlantic bluefin in floating cages without the use of hormones. It will still take time to develop the farmed tuna: the fish needs a decade or more to mature. But if it succeeds, it could represent a vital step in the global efforts to rebuild Bluefin.
Cultivating grasses to save the planet: In a time of climate change, when fuel resources are under pressure and lands face potential erosion risks, humble grass seems an unlikely saviour. The European research project OPTIMA is helping to cultivate high-yielding perennial grasses that could address these possible challenges, offering a number of valuable environmental and economic benefits. The project’s aim to develop new markets in biofuels and green products has spurred new ideas about harvesting grass and creating new plant-derived bio-products. The project is expected to lead to new sources of income and employment in rural areas and new options to use marginal lands.
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