Jean Monnet, the founding father of the European Economic Union, famously commented that “people only accept change when they are faced with necessity, and only recognise necessity when a crisis is upon them.” But even when change is accepted, ensuring it leads to success is hard. The challenge of change is very apparent when it comes to those building the bioeconomy in Europe – a vibrant but varied area that encompasses agriculture, fisheries, forestry, paper, chemicals, energy and consumer products among other sectors.
To ensure that the bioeconomy delivers the environmental and commercial benefits that we all hope it can, connections have to be built across industries and geographies and often have to overcome the challenge of entrenched ways of funding and manufacturing chemicals, materials and products. Added into this is international competition, with major investments being made in the USA, China and Brazil, making it a global race to maximise the opportunity.
Since 2014, the standard bearer for the development of the bioeconomy in Europe both from a socio-economic and environmental perspective has been the Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU), a €3.7 billion continent-wide institutional public-private partnership (iPPP) between the European Union and the Bio-based Industries Consortium (BIC) that aligns both policy and investment strategy.
In the past five years, BBI JU has played a crucial role in delivering investment that clearly states the importance and potential of bio-based industries to the future of Europe, and perhaps most crucially helps de-risk projects by providing EU funding and helping mobilise and leverage private investments. This positive focus has helped to foster a vibrant and stimulating research and innovation environment in Europe. It has broadened the bioeconomy’s presence in new value chains, sectors and geographies and opened up processes, feedstock, biomass and organisations that were not traditionally part of the bio-based economy and were not collaborating at all. Currently, more than 1100 organisations from 33 countries are part of the 101 granted BBI projects, and 40% of them are SMEs.
To give just one example of a project supported by BBI JU, AgriChemWhey is a consortium comprising 11 partners from five EU member states (manufacturers, technical specialists, councils and educational institutions) who are working together to build a first-of-its-kind biorefinery in Ireland that will turn by-products from the dairy industry into value-added products, primarily lactic acid, the major market for which is the manufacture of the biodegradable bio-plastic polylactic acid (PLA).
Anchored in the Republic of Ireland, Bill Morrissey, procurement manager with one of the companies at the head of AgriChemWhey (Glanbia Ireland), told Bio Market Insights about the project: “It started out as a supply chain contract to dispose of one of the major side streams of whey processing – whey permeate and delactosed permeate. Through our research, we have found a sustainable solution for disposing these by-products, which can add value by creating a circular bioeconomy centred on the dairy industry.” A true win-win!
The results of the institutional public-private partnership model have been remarkable – against a target of 10 new bio-based value chains they expect to deliver 113 new ones by 2020. When it comes to new cross-sector interconnections, they are on track with 143 new ones expected by 2020 far exceeding the original target of 36.
But creating the products or platforms is only part of the story: there also has to be a market for them. BBI JU helps boost large-scale production and the creation of sustainable products and materials for consumer and industrial needs. Once again, the results are highly impressive: by 2020 they expect to create 147 new bio-based materials versus a target of 50, 67 new bio-based chemical building blocks (vs. 5) and 65 new bio-based products (vs. 30).
Through the successful iPPP model turning research excellence into focussed innovation, BBI JU is delivering concrete socio-economic and environmental benefits across Europe.
- Creating jobs. 80% of ongoing projects support the creation of new skilled jobs in the bioeconomy, many of them in rural and coastal areas. Their first seven flagship biorefinery projects alone will generate more than 3,000 direct and 10,000 indirect jobs, most of them in rural areas.
- Reducing emissions. 71% of ongoing projects expect to deliver bio-based products with lower greenhouse gas emissions than the fossil-based alternatives.
- Leveraging investments. The first seven flagship biorefinery projects alone are expected to generate more than 1 billion of investments from private industry well spread all around Europe with a high perspective of replication.
- Enhancing sustainability and circularity. 66% of ongoing projects contribute to waste reduction, reuse, recycling, as well as turning waste and side-streams into added-value products, supporting the build-up of a circular economy.
- Fostering collaborations. 80% of ongoing projects increase the cooperation between academia and industry, paving the way for further bio-based developments.
The BBI JU actively contributes to the EU bioeconomy strategy which aims to create up to 1 million green jobs by 2030 especially in rural and coastal areas, increase diversification and growth of farmers’ income and decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 50% until 2030.
The achievements of this high-impact initiative for the bioeconomy in Europe are as varied as impressive. To conclude I ask Phillipe Mengal, Executive Director to try and sum up their work so far.
“When we launched BBI JU, we aimed to put Europe firmly back on the map of attractive regions where to invest in bio-based industries. We’ve not just achieved this, but we’ve made it a global leader. There’s so much to be proud of! When we set up BBI JU, one of the areas in which the bio-based industries stood out from the other public-private partnerships was the expected leverage effect. In 2014, the yearly survey of BIC towards their members announced a pipeline of investment in the European bio-based industry sector of €2 billion. The pipeline grew to €5 billion in 2017 and reached €5.5 billion in 2018. Furthermore, BIC is now observing that more and more companies located outside the EU are showing interest in joining the initiative and making investments in Europe. Moreover, our focus on the participation of SMEs and natural resource providers, brings growth and development to Europe’s often neglected rural and coastal areas. But there is still much work to be done as we further seize the opportunity of the growing bioeconomy, and I am excited to see what the next five years bring!”
If you would like to find out about how your project could be supported by BBI JU, they launch annual Calls for Proposals, open to all stakeholders: large industries, SMEs, technology providers, academia and RTOS. The process is operated under Horizon 2020 rules and thus on the principles of Openness, Transparency and Excellence. In other words, everyone can participate and the best proposals evaluated by independent experts will win. So, what are you waiting for? Take a look and see how you too could partner with BBI JU.