Nicoló Giacomuzzi-Moore, Executive Director ad interim at CBE JU – Circular Bio‐based Europe Joint Undertaking, explains how European bio-based industries are leading the green transition
How can Europe transition to a low-carbon economy while continuing to ensure economic growth? Surely, the two do not seem compatible. Fossil-based resources have been the backbone of our economies for centuries. Global challenges such as climate change, land and ecosystem degradation, coupled with a growing demand for food, feed and energy, force us to seek new ways of producing and consuming – as seen with European bio-based industries.
A sustainable and circular bioeconomy contributes to addressing these challenges. Crops, forests, fish, animals and microorganisms all offer the potential for conversion into food, bio-based materials and energy. In the bioeconomy, these renewable biological resources, along with the associated side streams and by-products, replace the existing, non-renewable sources of raw materials for fuel, energy and manufacturing. Replacing fossil carbon with more sustainable streams of recycled carbon from waste and sustainable biomass can green our industrial production processes, thereby facilitating the transition of energy-intensive sectors to a low-carbon economy. This is an essential development in the global drive for sustainability and a key element in addressing the world’s environmental challenges.
The key concept underpinning the bioeconomy is that of circularity. The circular economy aims to achieve zero waste and pollution throughout the lifecycle of a material, from its initial extraction from the environment to its industrial transformation, through its final consumer use and ultimately its end-of-life recycling.
The growth of Europe’s bioeconomy sector
Since the publication of the first EU Bioeconomy Strategy in 2012, Europe’s bioeconomy sector has experienced considerable growth; in 2017, it was estimated to be worth some €2.4 trillion – an increase of 25% in less than ten years. During the same period, turnover among European bio-based industries, such as chemicals and plastics, pharmaceuticals, paper and paper products, forest-based industries, textiles, biofuels and bioenergy increased by 23% from €600 million to €750 million.
The Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU), established in 2014 and co-funded by Horizon 2020 (the EU’s research and innovation programme), has supported the industry’s efforts and promoted the transition towards a post-petroleum society, while decoupling economic growth from resource depletion and negative environmental impacts. Throughout this time, the public-private partnership has assisted in structuring and mobilising the bio-based industries and triggering, attracting, and maintaining investment in Europe, creating competitiveness and jobs, particularly in coastal and rural areas.
By replacing fossil-based materials and products with bio-based ones, using local, sustainably sourced feedstock and developing circular production processes, the BBI JU-funded projects have provided an important contribution to Europe’s green transition. BBI JU has funded over 140 projects with 1,055 beneficiaries in 39 countries, which develop better, sustainable solutions and bring them closer to the market. Considering the flagship projects alone, €250 million of BBI JU funding invested in 14 highly innovative first-of-their-kind biorefineries built across Europe will leverage €1.3 billion of private investments and create around 20,000 direct and indirect jobs, in predominantly rural and coastal areas.
“Fossil-based resources have been the backbone of our economies for centuries. Global challenges such as climate change, land and ecosystem degradation, coupled with a growing demand for food, feed and energy, force us to seek new ways of producing and consuming.” Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have played a key role in this success, especially concerning their role as innovation hubs. BBI JU-funded projects witnessed a 41% SME participation rate, significantly outperforming the EU research & innovation targets, with 98% of BBI JU projects featuring at least one SME. Moreover, the expected results reported by ongoing projects indicate that the final Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) will significantly exceed the targets foreseen in the BBI JU Strategic Innovation and
Another key distinguishing feature of BBI JU-funded projects is the close and strong collaboration between academia and industry, including SMEs, which has resulted not only in knowledge creation and transfer, but also in the deployment of sustainable processes
and commercialisation of bio-based products.
A new chapter for the EU bioeconomy
2021 marked the start of a new chapter for the EU bioeconomy and European bio-based industries with the establishment of the Circular Bio-based Europe Joint Undertaking (CBE JU), the successor of the BBI JU. This new public-private partnership will aim to build on the achievements of its predecessor and to advance a sustainable and competitive EU bioeconomy over the next 10 years, while addressing the environmental, climate, technology, regulatory, social and market challenges. It foresees a wider engagement with stakeholders and will demonstrate the potential of the bio-based industry to make the EU’s industrial production greener and contribute to the recovery of our economy sustainably and inclusively.
CBE JU launched its first €120 million call for project proposals in June 2022, covering topics ranging from alternative protein sources, substitutes for fossil-based chemical blocks, monitoring systems for environmental sustainability and circularity, to alternative sources of high-added value food and/or feed ingredients. The call closed in September and evaluations are currently ongoing, with the first grant agreements for successful applicants expected to be signed in May 2023.
The EU bioeconomy has proven that it is possible to transition to a low-carbon economy by developing new, cleaner and greening ways of producing and consuming products and services, while at the same time generating sustainable economic growth, new green jobs and ensuring Europe’s competitiveness and security on the global stage.