Thursday, 26 January 2017

Bioeconomy: Challenges and opportunities

The European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) has just issued a briefing paper on the Bioeconomy. The eight page document, entitled ‘Bioeconomy: Challenges and opportunities’ provides a background to the European bioeconomy before outlining a range of opportunities and challenges this present, the EU’s policy on bioeconomy, the European Parliament’s position and a range of Stakeholders' views. An edited summary of the paper is below. The full briefing can be downloaded here.

The bioeconomy refers to the production and extraction of renewable biological resources and their conversion into food and feed, bio-based products and bioenergy. The current notion of the bioeconomy emerged recently as a knowledge-driven concept aimed at meeting a range of today's challenges. In the European Union (EU), the bioeconomy sectors have an annual turnover of about €2 trillion and employ between 17 and 19 million people. They use almost 75% of the EU land area.

The briefing highlights the strong research and innovation dimension of the bioeconomy, which may be applied to improve the production of food, feed and fibre as well as to develop new applications and products in sectors such as pharmaceuticals, chemicals and energy. This dimension, generally referred to as the 'knowledge-based bioeconomy', is in part driven by recent developments in bioscience and biotechnology, related in particular to bio-based materials and genetic engineering of crops. Recent applications include materials, textiles, cosmetics, furniture and food. A variety of products could be produced in integrated units, for instance integrated biorefineries producing fuels, chemicals, plastics, heat and electricity.

A stronger bioeconomy could trigger growth and jobs, and reduce dependency on imports. It could contribute to optimising the use of biological resources, which remain finite although they are renewable. However, it could also create competition between uses and technologies at various levels. Besides, the amount of available biomass remains disputed. A bioeconomy could contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving public health. However, it could also trigger new greenhouse gas emissions and induce adverse impacts on the environment.

The EU policy framework for the bioeconomy is spread across a number of policies (agriculture, forestry, fisheries, climate, circular economy and research). Although a bioeconomy strategy from 2012 aims to ensure policy coherence, inconsistencies remain. The EU provides funding to innovative bioeconomy activities through Horizon 2020 and a range of other instruments.

The European Parliament has been supportive of the bioeconomy strategy, while highlighting the need for sustainability and policy coherence.

SusChem and the Bioeconomy
A sustainable bioeconomy features in the SusChem Strategic Innovation and Research Agenda (SIRA) encompassing the production of renewable biological resources and the conversion of these resources and associated waste streams into value-added products such as feed, food, biobased products and bioenergy.

Integrated biorefineries are central to the development of the bioeconomy and were one SusChem’s original flagship innovation concepts. They can deliver new sources of chemical building blocks that are either structurally similar to fossil-based feedstock or new with novel functionalities and improved properties. In order to unlock the full potential of a sustainable biomass supply, it is essential to consider all possible sources including second generation biomass and waste streams (such as municipal wastes). The bioeconomy can improve resource efficiency and is a key element in achieving the broader concept of a circular, integrated, renewable economy.

Innovation is also a key solution provider for the transition to a more Circular Economy and the development by the chemical sector of innovative advanced materials and process technologies is essential to enable a better use of existing resources along the whole life cycle, to develop new production and recycling paths.

About EPRS
The European Parliamentary Research Service is the European Parliament's in-house research department and think tank. Its mission is to assist Members in their parliamentary work by providing them with independent, objective and authoritative analysis of, and research on, policy issues relating to the European Union. It is also designed to increase Members and European Parliament committees' capacity to scrutinise and oversee the European Commission and other EU executive bodies.

The EPRS website is here and you can also follow EPRS on Twitter.

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