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The war in Ukraine has sharpened European leaders’ focus on finding the best way to build a more robust economic base, reduce strategic dependencies and reinforce the supply of critical materials. There is, in my view, one sector being overlooked: the bio-economy.
Marco Rupp

Our latest data shows that the bio-economy has a 2.4 billion EURO turnover and employs 18.4 million people. The bio-based industries play a major role in the bio-economy, contributing around 25% to this turnover.
A key advantage of our sector is that we use recyclable and renewable EU feedstock to produce a variety of bio-based products and materials that are themselves recyclable, reusable and can be compostable or biodegradable. It is quite clear that bio-refining can offer an opportunity to produce multiple products such as feed, food, fertilizer, bioenergy input and bio-based materials and chemicals. All that with zero waste and low GHG emissions outlook. 
For example:

  • Many bio-based chemicals (produced in a bio-refinery) are alternatives to established fossil-based chemicals. Accelerating their development can have a large impact on Europe’s self-reliance.
  • Bio-fertilizers are an alternative to their “traditional” counterparts i.e. energy-intensive produced fertilizers, mainly imported from outside Europe.
  • Functional food ingredients (a product from bio-refining) from plant origin can diversify protein sources to decrease Europe’s dependence on imports and the environmental footprint often associated with it.

So what are we waiting for?

Europe has made good progress in recent years. Our sector is continuously investing in Europe. In addition, the public private partnership, the Circular Bio-based Europe (CBE JU) was recently launched. However, more can be done to make the bio-based industries a stronger part of a new growth and investment model. Like many other solutions currently being discussed, innovation and sustainable production must be better combined and supported to generate long-term solutions. Financing research and building production capacity for (critical) products will be key.

The bio-based industries can bring circularity, sustainability and competitive production to Europe. To underpin and support this, more regulatory foresight is necessary for bringing innovative products on the market. It should also be easier to create financial synergies e.g. by combining public and private funding instruments. However, there needs to be an awareness of potential trade-offs, in particular in the short versus long-term. Such as the recent RePowerEU initiative aimed, amongst others, at producing larger volumes biomethane. But more feedstock used in energy production means less for other uses. Our sector is able to valorize, for example, agricultural feedstock and residues into multiple products (see examples above), instead of using such residues for energy purposes mainly.
So, let’s not wait. The bio-based industries and the bio-economy could play a significant role in bolstering Europe’s efforts to become more self-sufficient.