Meet three European pioneers leading the blue bioeconomy revolution

29 November 2019

'The Blue bioeconomy is already a trillion euro industry with a huge potential and unprecedented rate of development…' It is said that we know more about the surface of the moon, than what happens under the sea. But now, with pressures increasing on resources on the land, there is a fresh focus on what can be harvested from our rivers, seas and oceans. This is an exciting field of innovation known as the blue bioeconomy, defined as any economic activity associated with the use of renewable aquatic biomass to make products. Supporting Europe’s position as a global leader in the blue bioeconomy is the Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking.

BBI JU contribution to blue bioeconomy

Examples can include novel foods and food additives, animal feeds, nutraceuticals, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, materials (e.g. clothes and construction materials), energy and more. The aquatic biomass used in developing these products can include fishery residues, shellfish, crustaceans and algae, and with oceans constituting 72% of the surface of our planet and constituting more than 95% of the biosphere (the global ecological system) the potential really is huge.

Europe has an estimated 66,000 km of coast and with its fine seafaring history, lengthy rivers and bounteous lakes, it is staking a claim as a global leader in this field. However, as with any nascent industry which offers big opportunities, there are challenges that need to be overcome to support growth: high start-up costs, obstacles to scale-up, incomplete regulations, investment scepticism and limited consumer awareness. Supporting Europe’s position as a global leader in the blue bioeconomy is the Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU) a €3.7 billion institutional public-private partnership between the European Union and the Bio-based Industries Consortium (BIC).

Philippe Mengal (@philippemengal) Executive Director of the BBI JU, tells us more about the importance they are placing on the blue bioeconomy: “The Blue bioeconomy is already a trillion euro industry with a huge potential and unprecedented rate of development. However, great opportunities come with big challenges: high costs, technical hurdles, incomplete regulations, etc. With 100 partners from 20 countries, eight BBI JU aquatic biomass projects are finding smart solutions to those challenges through interdisciplinary work and strong industrial-academic collaboration. These pioneering projects are de-risking future investments by demonstrating the feasibility and cost effectiveness of their novel biorefineries, developing integrated value chains from primary producers to end-users in order to bring competitive and functional products to the market.”

Further to Philippe’s vision, today we cast a spotlight (or should that be a fishing line?) on three fantastic projects from across Europe that BBI JU are supporting.

In Norway, AQUABIOPRO-FIT, a consortium of 12 partners, is focussed on utilising hundreds of thousands of tons of marine sidestream products such as fish heads, backbones and intestines that are currently discarded and instead convert them into ingredients for food, feed and other products in high-value markets.

This four-year project aims to promote the efficient utilisation of these biomass by-products through the up-concentration of nutrients and functional compounds while, at the same time reducing waste. The challenges they are focussed on overcoming are associated with taste, bioactivity, safety and consumer acceptance, with the goal of ensuring that the products are of high quality and can be effectively brought to the market. The outputs of the targeted bioactivity of the developed food products will include: improved athlete performance, anti-anxiety and anti-depression remedies and improvements to body pH balance, skin health and hair growth.

Commenting on the project, Heni B. Wijayanti,  project manager at AQUABIOPRO-FIT,  said: 'To date, we have successfully characterised extensively the nutritional compositions of fish fractions/side streams biomasses, developed and verified both in lab- and pilot-scale innovative processes for the refinement of bioactive fish protein fractions of acceptable organoleptic characteristics, and produced collagen from different side-streams.'

'Additionally, we have successfully established Ciona intestinalis cultivation and produced Ciona fond for human consumption and meals in pilot-large scale for use in fish feeds. In the coming years we will be focusing on how to up-concentrate these bio-active nutrients and functional compounds for development of innovative elixirs that target anxiety/depression, skin and hair improvement, and body acidity.'

Rune Paulsen, the CEO of Seagarden, a Norwegian company specialized in developing and producing marine ingredients and one of the consortium partners writes: 'Reducing the production of waste is one of the most important environmental benefits that we would like to achieve. The need for protein in the world is increasing and this project helps us to find new ways to derive proteins for human use from what otherwise would have become waste. Additionally, we can improve personal health by supplying nutritional supplements thus providing the body with the missing ingredients to keep it in good physical and mental condition.'

'Today people are more focused on nutritional products that can address the health problems, such as depression, anxiety, skin acne, and hair growth. The economic impact of the project is not only to create new products for the European market and subsequently new job positions, but also to increase European exports', concludes Paulsen.

Whilst for ABACUS, in France, their potential is found not in waste, but in algae. Production of this diverse group of aquatic organisms is currently limited to a few small industries, predominantly within the feed, nutrition and cosmetic sectors but very much ripe for expansion. The challenge for the industry is developing an economically viable and sustainable method of growing large quantities of algae and converting them into commercial products.

The ABACUS project has been designed to synthesise a range of new molecules, that will help overcome this challenge and bring competitive products to the market. The team have a key advantage in their business-focussed workplan and are gathering key players along the whole product development chain with a particular focus for those in the flavour and perfume sectors, seeking new bio-based sources.

In Spain, the BBI JU BIOSEA project is focussed on helping Europe solve its need for new sustainable bio-based feedstocks to meet population growth. As it stands, around 70% of the EU’s protein needs are imported and although aquatic feedstock including algae offers a potential solution, its total production volume and market size is still relatively small.

The BIOSEA project aims to validate and scale up an entire production process of ingredients from the lipid, protein, carbohydrates and minority compounds fractions of four algae, including upstream and downstream steps. Through an effective and environmentally friendly process the compounds will be obtained at a lower cost, and in larger quantities supporting a significant industrialisation of the process. These compounds will then be used in food, feed and cosmetic/personal care as high-added value products.

Inga Grigaliunaite, Project Leader/ Research and development at FeyeCon, part of the consortium behind the project, told us that their big focus in 2020 is to 'further grow the project and develop new products with micro and macro algae different extracts.'

These three projects, with their support of the BBI JU (@BBI2020) are fantastic examples of sustainable innovation but with a clear commercial goal. Life originated in the oceans and oceans continue to support all life today by generating 50% of the oxygen we breathe, absorbing carbon dioxide, recycling nutrients and regulating global climate and temperature. Furthermore, our seas provide a substantial portion of the global population with food and livelihoods and are the means of transport for 80% of global trade.

In 2015, world leaders agreed to 17 Sustainable Development Goals for a better world by 2030. These goals have the power to end poverty, fight inequality and address the urgency of climate change.  A booming blue bioeconomy can play a huge role in supporting a healthier, wealthier planet. Whether it is new, greener products and job creation in economically challenged coastal areas or additional benefits such as seaweed farms acting as carbon sinks or increasing biodiversity in our waterways, it is time we all set sail on the blue bioeconomy!

Source: Bio Market Insights