Bio-based industries in Europe: building on a double-digit growth

07 December 2017

An 11% growth in 2016, and €5 billion of planned industry investment, on top of several hundreds of thousands of extra jobs, the majority of which in rural areas: few sectors can match the rise of Europe’s bio-based industries.

Yet, despite exceeding expectations, there is still a lot of potential to be tapped for Europe’s bio-based industries.

It is why the Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU) is gathering policy makers, researchers, industry leaders and SMEs as well as farmers and primary producers at their Stakeholder Forum, 7 December at the Square – Brussels Meeting Centre: to discuss what has been achieved so far and showcase the added value for the European Union, but also to look forward, identify the remaining challenges, and plan for the future.

The Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU) was created in 2014 within the EU’s Bioeconomy Strategy and Horizon 2020 framework as a € 3.7 billion public-private partnership aimed at creating a competitive and sustainable bio-based industry sector in Europe, with € 975 million coming from the EU and the remaining € 2.7 billion coming from industry. In 2017, halfway through the programme, an independent evaluation by the European Commission confirms that the BBI JU is on the right track, not just fulfilling the predefined KPIs but achieving high levels of effectiveness, implementation and transparency, an impressive 36% SME participation rate and a 97% satisfaction rate from participating coordinators. This is corroborated by the latest figures produced by Europe’s bio-based industries: not only has the BBI JU target of 5 operational biorefineries by 2020 already been exceeded, on top of that the sector has seen an 11% growth in 2016, and the investment planned by Bio-based Industries Consortium members has risen from €2 billion in 2014 to € 5 billion in 2017.

“It is a remarkable evolution”, comments Philippe Mengal, Executive Director of the BBI JU, “further illustrated by the fact that we are currently noticing a growing interest from banks and private investors, even from outside the EU. Most of all, it is proof that, through the 65 projects we are funding in 30 countries, the BBI JU is creating unique opportunities for public and private organisations to cooperate, develop their knowledge and establish cross-sector connections to find new ways of valorising Europe’s biomass potential. Effectively, the figures show that BBI JU is successful in organising, structuring as well as shaping new value chains, de-risking private investment and reaching the critical mass needed to create value for Europe and its citizens.”

Looking at the future, the BBI JU aims at continuing its structuring and mobilising efforts, creating new markets for bio-based products and enabling the development of a circular and sustainable bio-based European economy, without challenging food production and respecting biodiversity and land use. Challenges include maintaining continuity and stability, key to fully de-risking investment; a higher level of self-sufficiency in terms of biomass supply; and a longer-term commitment of industry, policy makers, thought leaders, brand owners and retailers, needed to fully embed the infrastructure a bio-based economy requires. It is a systemic change which will take time. But, for bio-based industries to make a real and tangible impact on people’s everyday lives, the biggest of challenge of all is perhaps a shift in conscience: to increase public awareness, and instil the idea of bio-based into the hearts and minds of consumers.

“The potential impact of bio-based is clear for everyone to see”, explains Philippe Mengal. “People just need to know about it. I always like to make the comparison with the Stone Age: The Stone Age did not end because there were no more stones, but because there was something better. With bio-based industries, it is exactly the same: we are building a bio-based industry that is better for Europe and its citizens, accelerating the shift towards the post-petroleum era.”