ECO-INNOVATIONat the heart of European policies
A group of business federations active in agriculture and bio-based industries has established a new platform to call on the European Union to establish a more long-term policy framework that will foster the emergence of the bioeconomy.
The European Bioeconomy Alliance (EBA) was launched in February. The group comprises organisations such as the Bio-Based Industries Consortium, the European Association for Bioindustries (EuropaBio), European Bioplastics and COPA-COGECA, which represents farmers and agri-cooperatives. Its main aim is to boost the bioeconomy through “holistic, coherent and harmonised” polices across a number of relevant areas: agriculture and forestry, maritime issues, industry, climate, environment, energy, research and regional development.
The alliance defines the bioeconomy as “the sustainable production of renewable resources and their conversion into food, feed, fibres, materials, chemicals and bioenergy through efficient and/or innovative technologies”. At the centre of this is the concept of biorefining: processing biomass and its by-products into materials and products, rather than using fossil fuel feedstocks. For example, plastics can be produced from biological resources, rather than from oil.
The European Commission published a bioeconomy strategy for the EU in 2012. It found that the sectors that fall under the bioeconomy heading already make up a substantial part of the EU economy, with a turnover of about €2 trillion and employing 22 million people. Building the bioeconomy could make Europe more sustainable and resilient in the face of threats such as climate change, and could generate environmental benefits in terms of reduced consumption of fossil fuels and lower greenhouse gas emissions, as well as otherwise wasted biomass being used in biorefining. However, further research is needed to fully measure the environmental costs and benefits.
The Commission strategy advocated more investment in research, joined-up policies and support for bioeconomy markets, for example by sharing knowledge. Since it was published, a Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking has been set up by the Commission and private sector partners to run until 2020. The EU, via the Horizon 2020 research funds, is contributing €975 million to the partnership, with the private sector providing more than €2.7 billion. The money will be spent on bioeconomy and biorefining research.
The EBA says the partnership is a “step in the right direction” to help the commercialisation of the bioeconomy. In addition, the EBA says it will push to ensure that the EU legislative framework does not create unnecessary barriers to innovative bio-based products. According to the EBA, the EU should also encourage member states to sustainably increase agricultural and forest productivity and soil fertility, so that biorefineries can be guaranteed good quality feedstock, and should “encourage the debate on shaping a more competitive bioeconomy for Europe.”