The 16th of
November is Bioeconomy Policy day. To mark the occasion, the BBP EG (Biobased
Product Expert Group) has published its guiding principles and recommendations
for development of the biobased products sector.
The group, of which NNFCC is
a member, consists of individuals from all along the biobased products value
chain, from a wide variety of sectors, as well as those involved in research
and policy themselves.
The EU has very ambitious
aims with regard to economic development, seeking to lead the way with regards
to growth, technological advancement, and sustainability. The report focuses on
how biobased products within the bioeconomy can provide the EU with the
opportunity to achieve those aims, and discusses the current barriers that
exist and inhibit the growth of the bioeconomy. To that end, the report
concludes with 8 recommendations for policy reform to stimulate the growth of
the bioeconomy and the biobased product sector within it, namely
- Better coordination of the future “updated” bioeconomy strategy and overall EU policy framework affecting the bioeconomy.
- Improve access to financing for small, medium and large-scale bio-refinery projects.
- Expansion of opportunities for using biomass for high value products, without compromising EU and global food needs.
- Develop and implement robust methodologies, criteria, standards and certification schemes for assessing sustainability impact of bio-based products.
- Increase investments in research for new, resource-efficient renewable alternatives to everyday fossil-carbon based products.
- Implement market stimulation measures to enable a more competitive sustainable bioeconomy.
- Invest in the development of tools (standards and labels) enabling bio-based products to be better evaluated by purchasers.
- Use mandates and bans to create environmentally friendly innovation.
In 2012, the EU launched its
bioeconomy strategy, with a focus on research, innovation, policy, and market
development, and 2 years later founded the Bio-Based Industries Public-Private
Partnership (BBI JU), wherein almost 4 billion euros was invested in biobased
innovation, to help develop biobased markets in the EU. Both of these were
positive steps for the EU bioeconomy, and it is estimated that the EU
bioeconomy is now worth over 2 trillion euros, employing 18 million people and
with an annual turnover of almost 700 billion euros.
The EU’s bioeconomy strategy
has inspired many member states to develop their own bioeconomy strategies for
use at home, but the BBP EG now argue that the EU-wide strategy is now out of
date, and does take into account all the available opportunities for bioeconomy
In 2008, the European
Commission also launched its Lead Market Initiative (LMI) for Biobased
Products, which ended in 2011. The outcome was the establishment of 15
“priority recommendations” to advise policymakers on how to better integrate
biobased products into the EU economy. The EU’s progress against these
recommendations was also assessed by the BBP EG. The overall consensus was that
the EU has largely failed to deliver on the recommendations. A common theme is
that the issues have been discussed, but not actually resolved, nor any
tangible change implemented. The only areas where satisfactory progress was
deemed to have been made were the implementation of European and international
standards for biobased products, which has seen many such standards developed,
despite their not being adopted across the board, and in fostering the
development of technological innovation, for which the BBI JU was highly
praised, although its relative infancy was acknowledged. The other 13
recommendations were found to be unsatisfactorily met, which is a damning
assessment of the EU’s approach to biobased products, with an apparent
preference towards bioenergy and biofuels noted throughout the assessment.
However, there is still ample opportunity for the EU to rectify this below-par
performance in future, where biobased products are concerned.
The switch to biobased products
makes a level of economic sense: the bioeconomy has greater economic scope than
fossil fuels, in that it covers all sectors where fossil-fuels are involved,
and also covers food and feed, where fossil-fuels aren’t. This isn’t to mention
the greater variety of raw materials present in biomass feedstock: a greater
array of complex polymers and chemicals that can be utilised, which often
result in novel emergent properties of biobased products. There is also the renewability
of biomass, compared to crude oil, which ideally should remain in the ground. Biomass
can also be locally sourced within the EU, rather than having to import crude
oil from elsewhere, often from much less politically stable parts of the world,
meaning the supply of biomass is more secure. There is, however, the important
concern that biomass must be sustainably sourced, and also needs to account for
land-use: there still needs to be biomass available for food and feed, but
advancements continue to be made in increasing the productivity of agriculture
and forestry, which will naturally increase the amount of biomass available within
the same amount of land-use.
One area that is highlighted
in the report is public procurement: as shown by the US’ BioPreferred scheme,
the use of biobased products in the public sector is an excellent method of
stimulating innovation, but also of raising awareness of biobased products.
With the number of available biobased equivalents to products, the number of
biobased procurement opportunities is comparatively high. However, in Europe
there appear to be several major barriers to biobased procurement. Most of
these appear to be legal barriers, regarding the licensing of products, but
there also appears to be an attitude problem among those in the public sector:
a fear of disrupting the market by showing a preference for a particular
biobased product, or an unwillingness to take risks, by sticking with what
products are already utilised and known. This attitude is no doubt in part down
to the public sector’s lack of resources for market research, meaning there is
a certain level of uncertainty with any procurement. The BBP EG believes that
financial support for biobased procurement could be the answer to this, which
could help stimulate a commitment to biobased procurement. There is also the
problem that procurement often comes with strict sustainability criteria
attached, and this can be difficult for biobased producers to evidence,
particularly if they are SMEs. It is common sense that an LCA is the best way
of evidencing a product’s sustainability, as it covers every possible impact of
a product, but these are very expensive and time consuming to produce, and
could be seen as a luxury that SMEs cannot necessarily afford. Therein also
lies a problem that a complete LCA is sometimes difficult or impossible to
achieve for a biobased product, as the value chains are complex, and data is
sometimes lacking. It is here that financial support would also be useful,
allowing SMEs to overcome this financial hurdle, and also to provide resources
to allow the information gaps to be filled.
Much is also often made of
the link between the bioeconomy and the concept of circular economy, wherein products
at the end-of-life are fed back as feedstock for new processes, thus “closing
the resource loop”. The transition to a circular economy is an essential step
toward Europe becoming a “zero waste” economy, and herein lies one of the
bioeconomy’s key players: biorefineries. Biorefinery technology has developed
at such a rate that it is now possible to produce many different products and
materials using organic waste as a feedstock. Here, biobased products can also
play a major role, with biobased plastics now developed to the point where
plastic packaging can be degradable, allowing it to also be fed back into biowaste
processes, without the risk associated with biowaste being contaminated with non-biological
waste, which can ruin a process. The bioeconomy is also known for the way in
which by-products are often utilised in side processing streams, thus
continually minimising waste. The report argues that greater emphasis should be
placed in policy and communications on the link between the bioeconomy and the
(inherently more profitable) circular economy model, with the aim of
stimulating greater market interest in the bioeconomy, as the level of
investment and innovation still pales in comparison to the support given for
The policy recommendations
made by the BBP EG centre on the stimulation of uptake of biobased products in
European markets, and around reducing financial and bureaucratic barriers that
impede bioeconomy development. Currently, there is a lot of funding available
for biobased development, but it is split over many different organisations,
each with their own application processes and requirements, making it a
logistical nightmare for biobased projects to access this available funding.
The report recommends either the introduction of a “task force” who would be
responsible for guiding bioeconomy projects through the funding labyrinth,
particularly SMEs, who may lack the manpower/resources to navigate the funding
process themselves; or the pooling of the funding under one umbrella, thus
making it easier to access. It is also recommended that the methodology for
sustainability assessment of biobased products be overhauled, with the
introduction of standards and labelling in order to ensure purchasers can be
clear about the impact of what they are buying. There also needs to be a robust
LCA methodology, ensuring that the benefits of performing an LCA always
outweigh the costs, and also to develop LCA methodology that account for future
development of products, wherein their impacts may change.
Market uptake can be
stimulated by raising awareness of biobased products, although the report
argues that this should focus not on the biobased nature of these products, but
on the aforementioned novel functionality they can offer. Communication also
needs to be undertaken to identify potential new markets for biobased products
to exploit, and governments can support the uptake of biobased products through
procurement, and through mandates and bans, which can be easy for governments
to justify, given the improved functionality of biobased products. Such
mandates and bans would require time to take effect, however, as biobased
products are not yet widespread on the market.
Continued effort needs to be
made to ascertain the availability of biomass feedstock, including analysis
into changing consumer attitudes across the bioeconomy, which will offer
insight into future availability of biomass – currently the EU has 15% of the
world’s biomass, which the report says could double if side streams are
Overall, the assessment is an
optimistic one: there is a massive opportunity available for the bioeconomy,
and with the correct political guidance, this could allow for the bioeconomy to
bloom, hugely benefitting Europe as a whole. The key tenet of the report is
that, in order for it to successfully reach its potential, the EU’s bioeconomy
strategy needs a reform, rather than just a review. It was due the latter this
year, and it remains to be seen if it will get the former.