Biorefinery of available industrial waste could add millions to Scottish economy

Up to 27 million tonnes of waste from industry could be better utilised through biorefining in Scotland every year, with the potential to add millions of pounds of value to Scotland’s economy, says a new Zero Waste Scotland (ZWS) report.

Released yesterday (25 October), ZWS’s new report - ‘Biorefining Potential for Scotland’ - seeks to outline the opportunities available for Scotland to exploit in order to generate the maximum value from its bioeconomy.

Scotland has already shown itself to be committed to moving forward with maximising the value generated from the bioeconomy, with Scottish Enterprise releasing ‘The Biorefinery Roadmap for Scotland’ in 2015, and the Scottish Government outlining its priorities for the bioeconomy in its landmark circular economy strategy - ‘Making Things Last’.

The report builds on an earlier study, which found that around £800 million could be added to Scotland’s economy annually if waste and by-products from fish, beer, and whisky businesses were ‘better utilised’, echoing a report released by the Bio-based and Biodegradable Industries Association (BBIA) stating that £2 billion could be added to the whole UK economy through a developed domestic bio-plastics industry.

Biorefinery of available industrial waste could add millions to Scottish economy
The front page of the 'Biorefining Potential for Scotland' report
It demonstrates how waste materials could be captured and put to high-value use, as well as how increased engagement with the bioeconomy could provide opportunities for new job creation, especially in rural and coastal areas, where much of the suitable waste materials arise.

The report details that Scotland already has considerable expertise in the biorefining sector, having carried out extensive research into the future potential for forestry, marine biomass and synthetic biology, while it also quantifies a number of previously unaccounted for resource streams, including agricultural residues, industrial by-products and wastewater sludge.

In order to fully make the most of this expertise, as well as the support of policymakers and funding bodies and an industrial base suited to the exploitation of the bioeconomy, ZWS’s report recommends the development of a national industrial biorefining strategy in order to plug the knowledge and skill gaps and reinforce Scotland’s bioeconomy expertise.

Bearing in mind the need to take a whole system strategic approach, the report sets forth a number of strategic opportunities to be followed up on:

  • Engage with industry to understand the ‘demand’ for bioresources;

  • Identify the key bioresources that offer the greatest potential to biorefining and explore the data outputs further with stakeholders to discuss accuracy and access to further financial information;

  • Use the detailed findings of specific bioresource arisings, like proteins and carbohydrates, to identify and engage with relevant stakeholders to understand their interest and appetite to develop circular opportunities;

  • Develop a model that serves as a national materials database that covers the complete dataset of bioresources; and

  • Engage with investors to showcase the opportunities and introduce the innovative companies seeking funding.

The publication of the report coincides with the launch of a dedicated support service, delivered by Scottish Enterprise. The Scottish Bio-Resource Support Service provides data on type, quantity and location of ‘bio’ materials available in Scotland. The service will also help companies to learn of the range of support and funding available to help develop and realise forward journeys for high-value materials to be kept in use, such as ZWS’s £18-million Circular Economy Investment Fund and Circular Economy Business Support Service.

Tapping into Scotland’s ‘bio wealth’

Commenting on the release of the report, Scotland’s Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: “I am delighted that this report shows there are huge opportunities for Scottish business in biorefining. We need to stop seeing waste and start seeing opportunities.

“These resources are important and can make high-value chemical products like plastics, paints, plane parts and aviation fuels, with Scotland now considered to be a leader in industrial biotechnology development.

“The Scottish Government and our agencies are committed to helping businesses seize these and other opportunities in the circular economy. Zero Waste Scotland’s £18-million Circular Economy Investment Fund and the newly launched Scottish Bio-Resource Service delivered by Scottish Enterprise are key to this.”

Iain Gulland, Chief Executive, Zero Waste Scotland, added: “Scotland is building an impressive portfolio of circular economy business models, with entrepreneurs already offering products as diverse as fuel from whisky by-products and beer from unsold bread on the commercial market. This report will help showcase our burgeoning portfolio to a global audience – as well as demonstrating the opportunities available to develop new, sustainable and profitable circular economy businesses in Scotland.”

The full ‘Biorefining Potential for Scotland’ report can be read and downloaded on Zero Waste Scotland’s website.

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