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An introduction to UK policies and bioeconomy innovation

Category: nnfcc
Published: 26/10/2020
Author: NNFCC
An introduction to the key UK policies guiding innovation and influencing the development of the bioeconomy.


This report discusses:

  • The interaction between policy and innovation in bioeconomy development.
  • The direction of travel in bioeconomy market development, where conflicts and compromise exist and areas where stronger policy intervention is required.
  • Climate change and energy policy including the Climate Change Act, The Net Zero commitment, Renewable energy support instruments.
  • Environment, marine & land-based industry policy including the 25-Year Environment Plan, Agricultural Policy, Environmental Land Management, Environment Bill 2019-2021, Agriculture Bill, Clean Air Strategy.

Reasons to read

  • Provides an introduction to the key UK policies influencing the development of the bioeconomy.
  • Describes the importance of policy within innovation ecosystem.
  • Highlights areas where where policy provides a clear guide to market development and areas of continued discussion.

Number of pages: 31

This report was commissioned by Biomass Biorefinery Network (BBNet), a phase II BBSRC NIBB. For more information on BBNet see

Accessibility: This item is freely available


The bioeconomy represents the economic potential of harnessing the power of bioscience and the use of renewable biological resources to replace fossil raw materials in innovative products, processes, and services. While the bioeconomy covers the production of food, feed, fibres, biobased products, and bioenergy, this policy review focusses on the most relevant driving policies and actions which affect the development of bioenergy and biobased products. 

The UK is recognised as a world leader in the biosciences field. The potential to use biotechnology in the production of biofuels and biobased products has stimulated several important research programmes. However, research is just one element of successful innovation whereby new products and process are commercialised. Government policy plays a critical role in driving and shaping innovation systems, particularly where this delivers in areas addressing social needs, public good, and areas of market failure where private finance is difficult or expensive to secure. 

A clear example of failure is the inability of the market to address issues such as climate change, primarily due to the externality of greenhouse emissions to commercial activity. The UK Government recognises the need for intervention and has introduced a range of policies to both drive changes in operational practice and establish new market opportunities. The bioeconomy has at its heart the use of renewable sustainable raw materials, which when coupled with low carbon processes (i.e. those with low energy requirements such as biotechnology, or utilising renewable energy), provides a route to low carbon fuels and products, offering valuable climate change mitigation opportunities. 

This report introduces the various UK legislation and Government policies which influence the direction and growth of the UK bioeconomy. A brief introduction to industrial biotechnology and bioeconomy evolution is provided, followed by an overview of key current legislation, policies, and strategies. 

The approach to climate change mitigation, how the environment is protected and how markets are supported or regulated all influence how the bioeconomy develops. The direction of travel is not always clear with conflicting policy aspirations and differing viewpoints on the impact of possible interventions. These issues have arguably caused inertia in bioeconomy policy development and therefore have slowed market growth. This is particularly evident in relation to support for biobased products. 

Throughout the bioeconomy there is the need to balance the environmental benefits of switching from fossil carbon to renewable carbon, with the need to sustainably source biomass. The demand for biomass can be significant when viewed from the perspective of power, heat, and transport fuel. However, the drive towards ‘Net Zero’ greenhouse gas emissions and the required move away from combustion technologies, means biomass resources can be increasingly focussed on applications where alternative approaches are limited e.g. chemicals, plastics, and aviation fuel. 

The UK has the research base to be an influential player in the global bioeconomy. How the UK focusses and capitalises on this potential will depend, in part, on how its policy landscape evolves.