Globally, the bioeconomy has significantly gained in importance in recent years as a broad range of potential benefits has been detected by several countries. Amongst others, the EU and the OECD have emphasized the need for increased international cooperation to further facilitate the development of bioeconomic activities.
The bioeconomy requires new scientific knowledge, innovation and changing technologies to establish and develop biobased processes and to transfer natural resources into sustainable goods and services. Due to this fact, the bioeconomy and the traditional primary production in agriculture, forestry and fishery cannot be treated on an equal footing. The bioeconomy, encompassing both processing and services industries, is related also to the production of biological pharmaceuticals, bioplastics, composite materials, biofuels, biobased chemicals, cosmetics, high value foods coupled with the application of biological knowledge like bioinformatics or environmental engineering.
Global drivers, conducive to bioeconomy transitions are environmental pressure (e.g. climate change, biodiversity loss, land scarcity, safer water supply) and higher and volatile prices of fossil fuels, and growing population and life expectancy. Simultaneously with the drivers there are also constraints such as emerging environmental sustainability criteria, expansion of biobased feedstock use and ensuring global food security to be tackled.
According to a definition provided by the European Commission, the bioeconomy encompasses the production of renewable biological resources and their conversion into food, feed, bio-based products and bioenergy independently of the processing technologies. It thus includes agriculture, forestry, fisheries, food and pulp and paper production, as well as parts of chemical, bio-technological and energy industries.
In 2012 a bioeconomy strategy was established at EU level with the aim of improving investments in research and innovation reinforcing policy interaction and stakeholder engagement, and enhancing the market and competitiveness in the bioeconomy sectors, however, due to the diversity of the different Member States the individual strategies adopted by them are far from identical but at the same time all of them set the goal to reach coherence in bioeconomyrelated policies.
According to the authors of the European Bioeconomy in Figures the European bioeconomy generated an estimated turnover of app. €2.1 trillion and employed 18.3 million people in 2013. Almost half of the turnover and more than the half of the employed people came from the food and beverage sectors. More than 50% of the turnover was generated by agriculture, forestry and the bio-based industries. In terms of employment the strongest performing bio-based industries were the forest-based industry, paper and paper products and the textile industry.
In creating value by using resources more efficiently Europe can greatly benefit in areas such as the diversification and increase in farmers’ incomes, building new value chains, meeting 25% of Europe’s transport energy needs with advanced biofuels, the creation of a competitive biobased infrastructure, the replacement of oil-based chemicals and materials with bio-based and biodegradable ones to a greater extent than experienced today. Furthermore in the near future, biorefineries are expected to facilitate the conversion of biomass into higher-value every day products.