Green transition in Europe: BBI JU, a booster of Europe’s bioeconomy supporting the European Green Deal

08 July 2021

A recent article in the EFB Bioeconomy Journal shows how, since 2014, the BBI JU has addressed the environmental objectives now at the heart of the European Green Deal. It also presents the actions taken by the partnership to support research and innovation across Europe to fulfil the goals of important policy areas such as the EU’s Circular Economy Action Plan, the Farm to Fork Strategy and the Bioeconomy Strategy. Read below some of the ways the BBI JU is contributing to the sustainable circular economy.

Using sustainable resources

The bio-based industries are largely contributing to the shift from fossil-based to a sustainable economy. In line with the European Commission’s objectives to differentiate economic growth from resource use, the BBI JU is funding projects making this transition possible. 91% of BBI JU-funded projects are using raw materials derived from agricultural sidestreams, waste, and by-products, to produce bio-based ingredients, products and materials.

Some projects are researching ways to sustainably exploit agricultural waste, while others focus on forest-based feedstock and use wood residues and waste from pulp and paper industries.

For instance, the FIRST2RUN flagship project has developed a technology to produce high-quality oils from the underexploited cardoon plant grown on marginal lands in Europe.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions

The bio-based industries also contribute to decarbonising the European economy by developing greener production processes. 58% of the BBI JU-funded projects contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and 53% of them are expecting to reduce energy consumption by using local renewable resources and developing efficient production processes. The first 13 BBI JU-funded flagship projects are expected to save about 600 kT of CO2 emissions per year.

For example, the AFTER-BIOCHEM project estimates that their carbon footprint is 81% lower compared to fossil-based equivalents already on the market.

Developing environmentally friendly bio-based products

For the last years, there has been an increasing demand for sustainable, long-lasting designs using recycled materials. To encourage the bio-based industries to address every phase of the product lifecycle, the European Commission proposed introducing legislation for producer responsibility. The ultimate objective is to achieve climate-neutral production processes. The article underlines the importance of prioritising eco-design for new products to truly achieve a green transition in Europe.

In this line of action, the BBI JU-funded projects are working on 232 new bio-based materials to be released by 2024. For the finished projects, 71% of these new materials are biodegradable, and 42% are recyclable.

For example, some BBI JU-funded projects are developing biodegradable and recyclable bio-based solutions to replace unsustainable packaging. Many projects are expecting 100% use of bio-based materials such as recyclable polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) derived from leftovers of the food industry. In particular, the RefuCoat project is preparing materials containing PHA for packaging with antimicrobial and antioxidant properties. In addition, the CelluWiz project is investigating alternative packaging solutions to plastics that can be recycled along with paper and cardboard waste.

Developing healthy and sustainable food systems

While developing new sustainable products and materials for agriculture and industry, BBI JU-funded projects also fight soil and water pollution. Several projects are working on bio-based fertilisers and non-toxic pesticides that are helping farmers to embrace sustainable agriculture. As an example, the BIOVEXO project is developing a biopesticide that will address bacterial pathogens affecting olive and almond orchards in Southern Europe.

Concerns over the environmental impact of plant protein importation have prompted the European Commission to increase the supply of EU-grown vegetal proteins. The BBI JU is supporting it with the development of bio-based alternatives. For instance, the FARMŸNG flagship project will demonstrate and produce industrial-scale sustainable proteins for fish feed and pet food made of mealworms.

Taking the BBI JU achievements to the next level

The authors* of the article stress the importance of continuing the public-private partnership in the future to support achieving the goals of the European Green Deal. The Circular Bio-based Europe Joint Undertaking (CBE JU), the successor of BBI JU proposed by the European Commission for the 2021-2027 period, is expected to continue advancing sustainable bio-based industries in Europe. Additionally, it will focus on environmental and biodiversity protection while engaging further with public and private stakeholders to promote more coherent and stable regulation. Lastly, this new partnership will continue to benefit local and coastal regions by creating jobs and integrating primary producers in the bio-based value chains.

Read here the entire paper.

*The article is co-authored by Chloe Johnson, Ana Ruiz Sierra, Jan Dettmer, Kleopatra Sidiropoulou,  Elina Zicmane, Antonella Canalis, Pilar Llorente, Paola Paiano, Philippe Mengal, and Virginia Puzzolo.