What can be achieved in three years? Three years after birth, a child goes to kindergarten; depending on the planetary configuration, a spaceship could travel from earth to Jupiter; and a poplar in short rotation forestry can be harvested every three years.
How has the European bioeconomy developed over the past three years? Is it still in its infancy, has it already covered a long distance? Or is it even ripe for harvest?
At ACHEMA 2012 and 2015, one-day sessions on the EU bioeconomy have been organized jointly by DECHEMA, ERRMA, VCI and FNR. The ACHEMA 2012 event culminated in a paper called “The Frankfurt ACHEMA-Manifesto on the PPPs within the bioeconomy”. HORIZON2020 was under way, the organizational framework for funding of bioeconomy research needed yet to be detailed. A comparison between the 2012 Manifesto and the 2015 conclusions shows how much progress has already been made:
2012 conclusion no. 1 welcomed the planned public private partnerships as an important tool to accelerate innovation and improve competitiveness of many industrial branches in Europe. The emphasis on demonstration, pilot and flagship projects expressed in the paper has been met by the Biobased Industries JTU; this public private partnerhip has a strong focus on demonstration and flagship projects enabling new processes to be tested and brought to market on an industrial scale. The request for the elaboration of new norms, standards, labeling and certification methods is also covered by the current developments, as the 2015 session showed.
2012 conclusions no.2, 3 and 4 pointed out the necessity to implement both SPIRE for the processing industries and the BBI with a focus on biorefineries. At the same time, both PPPs should act jointly for example on the development of norms, standards, labeling, in the meantime already in action for most promising bio-based plastics and -lubricants, which were deemed vital for the successful market entry of biobased products and processes. Conclusion 5 called for a broader understanding of the term “public”. It should not be only about financing, but also about engaging the public at large.
With a view to these 2012 statements, the 2015 conference came to the clear conclusion that a lot of progress has been made: The PPPs have been realized and are working, the overall interest in bioeconomy and the public perception have increased. The full realization, however, will need patience – we are not talking about months or years but rather decades. The transformation to a bio-based economy is a complex undertaking. Success stories such as biolubricants, bioplastics and biosurfactants show that the transformation is possible. But they also prove that the way there is not easy and needs political and societal support.
Thus, it could be said that the “low-hanging fruit” has already been harvested – high-value specialties have made their way to market. For the high-volume commodities that face direct fossil competition, the road ahead is still bumpy.
To make it a road to success, the following topics need to be addressed:
- Nomenclature as a basis for standardization, procurement and – not least – communication. Currently, for some products such as biolubricants and bio-plastics there are already definitions, while in other areas there is no common agreement or standard what “bio” means – biobased (and if so, what proportion of a product has to come from biomass), biodegradable or bioderived. Clear definitions are needed to set goals for public procurement, but also to inform the general public and consumers about the benefits of the respective products.
- Logistics for fossil resources have been long established and are facilitated by the fact that most fossil sources are punctiform whereas biomass is grown on large areas. A balance will have to be found between the economically feasible size of a biorefinery and the necessary effort to ship raw material there and decentralized processing plants close to the agricultural sites.
- The current value chains in the bioeconomy need to be intensified and more closely interlinked. Players that haven’t cooperated before need to be brought together, creating new business models adapted to the specific characteristics of the bioeconomy.
- Necessary measures include the creation of sustainability criteria for biomass use for chemicals and energy, standards and norms defining biobased products and services.
- The availability of sustainable biomass has to be ensured. This requires adequate agricultural structures taking into account a broad range of potential biomass sources and trade agreements enabling the import from regions with abundant biomass.
- Sustainability criteria have to be extended to topics such as soil fertility, water management and the long-term economic feasibility of the process.
- Recently, the EU bioeconomy has been joined by a larger sibling, the circular economy. The bioeconomy is seen by many as an integral part of the circular economy, when it deals with waste, recycling, multiuse in form of cascades, and when closing value chains. Others insist on the complementarity of both forms of an economy because of the unique features of the bioeconomy like carbonneutrality, renewability and potentials for new properties of materials. which are found in renewable biological resources – the primary resources of the bioeconomy. Both economies should therefore join forces and potentials.
The bioeconomy in Europe is on the verge of success, but to ensure the final breakthrough, a couple of hurdles need yet to be overcome. Politics, industry and science should therefore not relax in their efforts to promote the bioeconomy and create favourable conditions for the transformation. In the context of a circular economy, it is still essential to have an explicit focus on the bioeconomy. We have come a long way over the last three years; but transforming a whole economy is a marathon rather than a sprint. Let’s not stop at mid-distance.
This article is the summary of the event
18 June 2015 in Frankfurt.
Contact: Dr. Kathrin Rübberdt, email@example.com
The ACHEMA 2012 Manifesto is available at http://www.dechema.de/dechema_media/ACHEMA_Manifesto.pdf