Philippe Mengal, Executive Director at CBE JU ‐ Circular Bio‐based Europe Joint Undertaking, charts the priorities for advancing a competitive bioeconomy in Europe for a sustainable future
Plastic pollution, climate change and dependency on fossil raw materials are major risk factors for Europe. Atmospheric greenhouse gases continue to increase, leading to extreme weather-related threats, while products derived from fossil fuels, such as plastics from COVID-19 medical equipment, are highly polluting to the environment and present many important challenges, including resource scarcity.
Today, more than ever, we need to change the way we live, produce, and consume. Such transformation is as urgent as it is challenging. How can we enable the green transition, spur economic growth and create new jobs locally, while making a positive impact on the environment and our health? The EU is addressing these challenges in several policy documents stemming from the European Green Deal, which aims to enable Europe’s green recovery by supporting sustainable growth.
The priorities of the European Green Deal include mobilising industry towards a clean and circular economy, supplying clean and secure energy, preserving and restoring ecosystems and biodiversity, increasing the EU’s climate ambition for 2030 and 2050, achieving the zero-pollution ambition for a toxic- free environment, and designing a fair, healthy, and environmentally friendly and sustainable food system. One of the ways to put these priorities into practice is collaborating and working with the private sector to solve specific sustainability challenges.
Public-private collaboration for a sustainable future
On 30th November 2021, the Council of the European Union established the Circular Bio-based Europe Joint Undertaking (CBE JU), a €2 billion partnership between the EU and the Bio-based Industries Consortium (BIC), to fund projects advancing competitive circular bio- based industries in Europe. By replacing non-renewable fossil resources with waste and sustainably sourced biomass to produce industrial and consumer goods, the bio-based industries will help Europe become the world’s first climate-neutral continent.
CBE JU is building on the success of its predecessor, the Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU), which has demonstrated the added value of a competitive circular bio-based economy in Europe. In particular, BBI JU has funded 13 first-of-their-kind biorefineries at an industrial scale. These biorefineries produce materials and ingredients from locally sourced biomass and plan to reduce CO2 emissions by over 800 kilotonnes per year and create about 20,000 direct and indirect jobs in rural and coastal areas.
As an example, the FIRST2RUN biorefinery based in rural Sardinia is using responsibly cultivated cardoon on marginal land to produce ingredients for bioplastics, cosmetics, fertilisers, animal feed and other sectors. The FARMŸNG flagship project is building the world’s first industrial biorefinery with mealworms in France to convert leftovers from agricultural processes into proteins for animal feed and organic fertilisers.
Working for a healthy planet
BBI JU and CBE JU are part of the EU’s Bioeconomy Strategy and Circular Economy Action Plan. At the same time, they both are important contributors to other EU policies stemming from the European Green Deal.
Projects funded by BBI JU contribute to protecting soil biodiversity, an objective of the EU’s New Soil Strategy. Among other goals, these projects have been developing bio-based pesticides and fertilisers that safeguard soil ecosystems, as well as aiding in the recovery of marginal lands for sustainable biomass production, thus enriching the soil. For example, the PHERA project works on commercial bio-based insect pheromones for crop protection – a sustainable alternative to the current chemical-based insecticides. The GRACE project is restoring degraded soils by cultivating two crops, hemp and miscanthus, as biomass. Miscanthus, a grass variety, is enriching the soil with valuable nutrients.
The BBI JU’s commitment to cutting emissions and reducing plastic pollution is in line with the EU’s Zero Pollution Action Plan, which aims to reduce plastics pollution by 30% before 2030. For instance, the ENZYCLE project is researching new enzymatic processes to treat and recycle plastic residues that could not be recycled before. The project’s team will select enzymes that can degrade plastics and microplastics and apply this on an industrial scale to significantly reduce plastic pollution in wastewater and landfill. Another project, EMBRACED, has built the first- of-its-kind biorefinery in Treviso, Italy, to transform used nappies into new materials, such as organic fertilisers and packaging films. The GLAUKOS project will help the textile industry become more circular by increasing the biodegradation rate of materials while boosting their durability for long-term use.
Cutting food waste
The bio-based industries contribute to the goals of the EU’s Farm to Fork Strategy by using food and crop waste, increasing the shelf life of products and promoting sustainable farming practices.
In Europe, around 90 million tonnes of food and 700 million tonnes of crops are wasted every year. (1) Most BBI JU-funded projects are helping to reduce this waste by turning leftovers from agriculture and other food processes into new food and feed ingredients, bio- based materials and products. For example, the two processing plants built by the AgriMax project are transforming waste from cereals, olives, potatoes and tomatoes into food products, agricultural materials, and biodegradable pots. Such initiatives provide new business opportunities for farmers and diversify their income, and many of them aim to deliver products with nutritional value to the food and feed market.
BBI JU-funded projects also develop bio-based smart packaging to prevent food waste. The BIOSMART project’s compostable and recyclable solution, for instance, is also using intelligent oxygen, CO2, and amine sensing technology to monitor the shelf life of products.
Several BBI JU-funded projects are addressing the need to reduce the EU’s dependency on protein imports and provide affordable and sustainable feed production. The SYLFEED project, for example, is working on nutritional and sustainable protein production from wood residues for the fish feed market as an alternative to soybean derivatives. It will use underexploited forest and wood waste and bring a competitive source of proteins for fish manufacturers.
Promoting sustainable growth in Europe
CBE JU will develop and expand the sustainable sourcing and conversion of biomass into bio-based products via multiscale biorefineries across sectors and regions in Europe. The partnership will support circular approaches such as the use of biological waste from agriculture, industry and cities to produce new bio-based products, goods and materials.
One of CBE’s main targets will be investing in R&I across scientific disciplines that support the bioeconomy and stimulating its uptake by the industry, thus helping to deploy bio-based innovation at a regional scale with the view to revive rural and coastal regions.
Sustainability and biodiversity are placed at the heart of CBE JU. Part of the research efforts will focus on increasing the sustainability of the bio-based industry’s production processes, and a robust monitoring system will be put in place to measure the environmental and socio-economic impact of CBE JU-funded projects.
Editor's Recommended Articles
Must Read >> Sustainable business models for a greener Europe