Bioeconomy Stakeholders’ Conference opens

Stakeholders in the European bioeconomy are meeting in Turin to discuss options for building the sector as part of the third BioEconomy Stakeholders’ Conference, which started today (8 October).

Bioeconomy Stakeholders’ Conference 2014Hosted by the Italian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, in collaboration with the European Commission, the conference aims to build on the EU strategy ‘Innovating for Sustainable Growth: a Bioeconomy for Europe’ by ‘inspiring and enabling different actors to take further concrete actions to build the EU bioeconomy’.

The conference builds on the conclusions and recommendations from two previous Bioeconomy Stakeholders Conferences, which were held in Copenhagen in February 2012 and Dublin in March 2013. In light of the EU’s Horizon 2020 framework programme for research and innovation, the current Italian Conference is looking to foster discussion on how to integrate the bioeconomy into European policies and through coordination at national, regional and local levels.

‘The bioeconomy ticks some of the most important boxes on Europe’s agenda’

Speaking in the opening session this morning, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, the European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, said that the European Commission would use the power of Horizon 2020 to create large-scale demonstrators to expand the sector.

“It is obvious the bioeconomy ticks some of the most important boxes on Europe’s agenda”, Geoghegan-Quinn said, highlighting the ability of the industry to create jobs and economic growth, as well as helping in the re-industrialisation of Europe.

She went on to explain that the industry should also be used to ensure citizen security, saying that we “shouldn’t take food security for granted in Europe”, as risks like climate change could disrupt the food supply chain and directly impact on the wellbeing of Europe’s citizens.

In conclusion, she noted that “the biggest challenge is turning concept into reality” and said that there must be a “relentless focus” on delivery. She urged all member states to pursue the bioeconomy, saying that those “that embrace it will have a huge advantage”.

The bioeconomy as an interconnected system

In a session entitled ‘Understanding the bioeconomy as an interconnected system’, Gunter Pauli, from the Zero Emissions Research and Initiatives (ZERI) Network, told the stakeholders of his various experiences with innovative initiatives in the bioeconomy.

Referencing his time at cleaning product company Ecover, when the brand, which was created to promote sustainability, found it was using palm oil obtained from the destruction of Indonesian rainforest, Pauli stressed the need to ensure a product has no adverse effects anywhere in its supply chain: “I could not reconcile being sustainable in Europe and destroying organgutan habitat in Indonesia”, he said.

Pauli went on to talk about different, successful examples of the bioeconomy he’s been involved with or envisages, including:

  • reintroducing rainforests in Colombia, on land where it was thought the pH of the soil was too low. The forests improved the environmental situation of the area and were then used to create turpentine to run cars;
  • making paper out of stone in South Africa to free up trees for other uses;
  • encouraging coffee waste to be recovered for various uses, including first growing mushrooms, and then creating animal feed, making textiles odour-absorbent and UV-protective, as fridge insulation or in paint. Pauli claimed this would increase coffee farmers’ revenue by a factor of four, and could grow the economy by a factor of 500. Indeed, he said that properly using the nine million tonnes of annual coffee waste could create 90 billion euros for the economy; and
  • hanging the way we fish to ensure that fish carrying eggs are not captured. Pauli bases his idea on a method used by dolphins and whales that involves fishing with air bubbles that don’t capture the heavier fish. He claims that a demonstration project in Morocco has shown that by using this method, you could increase fish stock to 1960s levels in just two years.

Pauli also commended biochemistry company Novamont for its new research into using thistles to create bioplastics. He said that the latest round of the Common Agricultural Policy negotiations took a lot of land out of production; thistles often now grow on this wasteland, and using them to produce biodegradable bags “will allow us to tackle a number of issues”.

'We need to think about systems'

Giving a presentation later in the day, Conference Chair and Novamont CEO Catia Bastioli outlined the company’s view for a “fully integrated bioeconomy”. She provided an overview of the developing Matrìca project with petrochemical company Versalis. The project is associated with the conversion of the petrochemical site in Porto Torres in Sardinia into an integrated third-generation biorefinery that, starting from agricultural raw materials and vegetable crops (including the thistles, which Pauli mentioned), will produce a range of chemical products (biochemical, biointermediates, bases for lubricants and bioadditives for rubbers) through ‘innovative and low-impact processes’.

In the development of the project, she said, the company wanted to use marginal local areas and limited water, while benefitting the local community. “In the bioeconomy, we cannot just think of biobased products; we need to think about systems”, she said.

Speaking to Resource after her presentation, Bastioli highlighted that the project has multiple outcomes, including diverting food waste from landfill by making compostable caddy liners from the thistle material, as well as creating animal feed from the thistle seeds, once the oil has been removed. "The bioeconomy is about regeneration, not just products", she commented.

The conference will continue tomorrow and will consider the role of the bioeconomy in several key areas:

  • primary production: the role of agriculture, forestry and marine resources, agro-food byproducts and waste as additional biomass sources;
  • biomass transformation and integrated biorefineries;
  • ‘horizontal key elements’ needed for a strong bioeconomy in Europe;
  • innovation and key supporting measures;
  • implementation tools at national and regional level.

You can watch the bioeconomy conference live from the player below.

Read more about the Bioeconomy Stakeholders’ Conference or Resource’s interview with Gunter Pauli.