EU Green Week: Bio-based industries and the green recovery
How high-impact bioeconomy initiatives are key to a climate-neutral Europe. 'Circular bio-based industries are an important part of the response,' said Philippe Mengal, executive director of the Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU), the EU’s most ambitious bioeconomy initiative, on the occasion of the EU Green Week. 'By replacing non-renewable fossil resources with waste and sustainably sourced biomass, to produce industrial and consumer goods, they are key contributors to making Europe the world’s first climate-neutral continent. Soil protection, sustainable forest management, reduction of pollution and investments in nature are all vital effects of the bio-based economic model Europe is aiming for.'
Soil protection, sustainable forest management, reduction of pollution and investments in nature are all vital effects of the bio-based economic model.
The bio-based sector is also a large employer that brings economic activity and social benefits back to European regions. The whole bioeconomy sector, in which Europe currently holds the global leadership position, represents nine percent of the EU’s workforce and is worth €2.2 trillion in turnover.
Bio-based industries have already achieved a lot in Europe, and the EU has a clear plan on how to maximize their contribution to Europe’s green recovery.
BBI JU: launching the circular bio-based economy in Europe
The BBI JU, a €3.7 billion partnership between the European Commission and the Bio-based Industries Consortium (BIC), supports the development of innovative and competitive bio-based industries in Europe. It helps de-risking investments for the construction and deployment of biorefineries across Europe to contribute to a more sustainable low-emission economy.
Since its inception in 2014, BBI JU has funded over 120 projects, in particular 11 flagship biorefineries that are first-of-their-kind in Europe, with high potential for replication. These biorefineries will generate more than 3,500 direct and 10,000 indirect jobs in urban and rural areas, and are expected to reduce about 600,000 tons of CO2 emissions per year.
The LIBBIO project is growing the Andean lupin on Europe’s poorest soils and turning it into a range of products for the food, animal feed, and cosmetics industries. While creating bio-based products, the project is also enriching and regenerating the soil for other crops.
Disposable nappies have a sizable environmental impact. 8.5 thousand tons of such waste are incinerated or landfilled in Europe every year. The EMBRACED project has developed collection and recycling systems in several EU countries, which turn used nappies into profitable new materials, such as organic fertilizers or packaging films.
The fast-spreading Xylella fastidiosa bacteria is damaging and destroying entire olive and almond orchards across southern Europe, putting farmers’ income at risk. The BIOVEXO project is working on innovative biopesticides that are targeting this bacteria, while preserving the ecosystem in the orchards.
Boosting regional economies and supporting local communities
The BBI JU concept has a high leverage effect. For €230 million of public funding, the industry has invested €1.3 billion in the biorefineries. Moreover, BBI JU projects mobilize all relevant stakeholders — primary producers, large industries, SMEs, clusters, trade associations, academia, research centers and end users — to develop technologies and business models that advance Europe’s green economy, thus structuring the sector’s value chains. Among other benefits, these projects allow diversifying and growing farmers’ income, leading to stronger rural areas and local communities across Europe.
The vast majority of BBI JU projects transform previously underutilized leftovers from agriculture, forestry and fisheries into valuable bio-based materials and products.
Placing sustainability at the heart of production
BBI JU is enabling a fully circular use of resources. 'The vast majority of BBI JU projects transform previously underutilized leftovers from agriculture, forestry and fisheries into valuable bio-based materials and products. All feedstock used in the projects must be sustainably sourced in Europe and not compete with food production,' Mengal said.
This is why over 80 percent of BBI JU projects anticipate lower greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil-based counterparts, while 75 percent of them contribute to waste reduction and valorization, reuse and recycling. In addition, most BBI JU projects are reducing energy consumption, improving land use and water efficiency, as well as developing more sustainable use of natural and existing unused resources.
Circular bio-based Europe — paving the way for climate neutrality by 2050
Following the recent positive impact assessment, BBI JU founding partners are now proposing a more ambitious initiative to start in 2021. CBE, the European Partnership for Circular Bio-based Europe will continue the biorefinery deployment in Europe, while involving all stakeholders, notably primary producers, engaging with regional actors and vigorously measuring the environmental impacts of funded projects. Biodiversity protection and other environmental aspects will be integrated into the partnership’s objectives.
Bioeconomy, the environment, the bio-based and the circular economy are all part of one single thematic cluster of Horizon Europe, the EU’s research and innovation program for the 2021-2027 period. The program is expected to contribute at least 35 percent of the expenditure to the EU’s climate objectives, and CBE will deliver heavily on this. The objective of the proposed CBE partnership is to produce significant quantifiable contributions towards the achievement of climate targets in 2030.
CBE will address the need for well-defined and measurable sustainability criteria on biomass production and bio-based products that are currently lacking in many national or regional bioeconomy strategies. Working with all stakeholders to create environmental and socioeconomic indicators, and use them across all CBE-funded projects will be the partnership’s priority.
In most cases, the bio-based industries depend on locally sourced biomass coming from agriculture, forestry, fisheries, side streams, waste, food waste, municipal waste, wastewater and other sources. Finding local technological solutions, creating value chains with all regional actors and involving local authorities, while fostering collaborations across sectors and regions, will be an important part of the CBE partnership.
The partnership is expected to invest more than €2 billion, the EU and private funds combined, to achieve its ambitious goals and to pave the way for climate neutrality by 2050 — fully in line with the European Green Deal and the goals of Horizon Europe.