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23rd Sep 2018

Stakeholder

Leading the transition towards a post-petroleum society

  • Europe's bio-economy accounts for at least 3.3 million jobs and a turnover of €674 billion (Photo: BBI JU)

The Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU) initiative is a €3.7 billion public-private partnership between the European Union (EU) and the Bio-based Industries Consortium (BIC). It is an autonomous EU body operating under Horizon 2020 rules and procedures, dedicated to investing in research and innovation projects.

BBI JU is dedicated to realising the European bio-economy potential and contributing to a sustainable circular economy, by turning biological residues and wastes (from agro-food, forestry and municipal sources) into greener everyday products, through innovative technologies and bio-refineries.

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Bio-based industries and their value chains are faced with complex and substantial technology and innovation challenges.

BBI JU was created to act as a catalyst to tackle these challenges by de-risking investments for private research and innovation, structuring the sector to allow it to reach critical mass in a focused and coherent way. This will enable long-term stability and predictability for the sector.

The BBI JU initiative is about connecting key sectors, creating new value chains and producing a range of innovative bio-based products to ultimately create a new bio-based community and economy.

The added value of BBI JU

By bringing together key stakeholders from across a diverse range of relevant industrial sectors, including large companies and SMEs, academia, regional and technological clusters, relevant knowledge is combined to achieve the sector innovation objectives, and to leverage significant private investment.

As an example, whereas BIC members had around €2 billion of investments in Europe in the pipeline in 2014, this has increased to almost €5 billion in 2017, meaning that Europe is back on the map as an attractive area to invest in this double-digit growth sector.

The BBI JU initiative's multi-sectoral approach creates cross-border collaboration at European level to help overcome market failures in the bio-based industries. No single company, industrial sector or member state has the capacity to deal with the challenges and financial risks facing the industry and other stakeholders. BBI JU brings together bio-based activities under one pan-European structure, pooling national and regional assets, strengths and skills.

BBI JU fosters a culture of collaboration across EU players, de-risks investments in the bio-based industries, and mitigates current market obstacles that are slowing down the transition from a petroleum-based economy to a bio-based economy.

In 2014, this sector already accounted for 3.3 million jobs and a turnover of €674 billion in Europe.

Benefits for European citizens

Overall, everyone benefits from a strong European bio-based industrial sector which can significantly reduce Europe's dependency on fossil-based raw materials. It will help the EU meet its climate change targets, and lead to more sustainable and more environmentally-friendly growth, preparing the EU for a post-petroleum era.

BBI JU has as its guiding principle the need to maximise and valorise the complexity of nature so that developed products and applied processes make the most of materials' natural properties. This results in the development of a sustainable sector, and goes a step further in improving the environment and our quality of life.

More concretely, bio-based industries are capable of delivering sustainable everyday products that are comparable or superior to fossil-based ones by their outstanding performance, competitive price and availability.

BBI JU's projects will develop the potential of waste as well as agricultural and forestry residues. They are perfect examples of the circular economy in action, meaning sustainable, resource-efficient and largely waste-free utilisation of Europe's renewable raw materials for industrial processing.

The creation of a competitive bio-based infrastructure in Europe is expected to significantly boost employment, as well as support regional development by expanding local economies by regenerating underdeveloped and/or abandoned regions.

This will result in new, higher and more diversified revenues for farmers and cooperatives and create up to 700,000 skilled jobs by 2030, 80 percent of which will be in rural areas.

More resource-efficient and sustainable low-carbon economy

The BBI JU initiative focuses on using Europe's biomass and wastes to make high-value products and bring them to market. Advanced bio-refineries and innovative technologies are at the heart of this process, converting renewable resources into sustainable bio-based chemicals, materials and fuels, allowing the EU to reduce its dependence on finite fossil resources.

BBI JU's activities clearly reflect the ambitions of the industrial partners to contribute to a sustainable society in the longer term. The Strategic Innovation & Research Agenda (SIRA) sets as an objective to reduce the EU dependency upon the import of strategic raw material like fossil raw materials but also protein for animal feed.

The aim is to replace at least 30 percent of existing petroleum-based products with better, more sustainable and economically viable versions by 2030, with the consequence of reducing GHG emissions by 50 percent.

Challenges ahead

Europe has always been at the forefront of science, innovation and the development of new technologies. Even when it comes to industrial biotechnology, some European companies are world leaders.

Yet, there is no such thing as a coherent, single bio-based industry. Instead, our bio-industries consist of a wide array of actors, from large companies and SMEs to academia and regional clusters, often working in isolation.

As to the construction of large-scale bio-refineries, central to the transformation of organic waste streams into new materials and components, Europe needs to promote itself as an attractive destination for investment, in order not to get left behind by the US, Brazil or China.

Additional challenges lie in providing a secure and sustainable supply of biomass feedstock and in the optimisation of its conversion, the ultimate goal being 'zero-waste' bio-based operations.

Bio-based industries can deliver many environmental, economic and social benefits, helping us meet EU objectives in areas ranging from job creation to circular economy and resource efficiency, as well as climate change, agricultural production diversification, rural and regional development. However, for Europe to reap those benefits and become a worldwide leader in all-things bio-based, we must maximise our efforts in developing its potential today, rather than tomorrow.

Only by overcoming fragmentation and joining public and private forces can we further de-risk private investment, provide incentives for both sides to cooperate, and allow for the development of a competitive bio-based industry sector. This, in turn, will lead to the creation of innovative technologies, new business models and greener everyday products.

A strategy which is proving its worth: by the end of 2016, every euro invested by the EU was leveraging €2.6 of private investment – proof that already, bio-based industries are actively boosting European economy, and creating sustainable value for its citizens.

Accelerating the implementation of a bio-based economy

BBI JU has already a relevant portfolio of 65 funded-projects helping to tackle the challenges of moving Europe to a post-petroleum era. These projects are covering value-chains based on agro-food by-products, forest biomass, bio-waste and aquatic biomass, being well-balanced between research & innovation, demonstration, flagship and coordination actions.

New value chains, new cross-sector interconnections, new bio-based materials and new consumer products are being created. Due to BBI JU projects, sectors that have never collaborated before, are now working together.

The Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU) is a €3.7 billion public-private partnership between the EU and the Bio-based Industries Consortium (BIC). Operating under Horizon 2020, it is driven by the Strategic Innovation and Research Agenda (SIRA) developed by the industry. For more information, click here.

Disclaimer: This article is sponsored by a third party. All opinions in this article reflect the views of the author and not of EUobserver.

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