A webinar on the opportunities of the 6th Cluster of Horizon Europe and the Circular Biobased Europe Partnership (CBE JU) was held on 28 April with more than 110 participants, where among others the Bio-based Industries Consortium (BIC) was also introduced. The online event took place within the framework of the BIOEASTsUP H2020 project, organised by the Hungarian Ministry of Agriculture in cooperation with Institute of Agricultural Economics (AKI) and Budapest University of Technology and Economics (BME). The speakers presented the possibilities how to finance early-stage projects mainly to participants from the R&D and industry sectors. The event was timely as the European Commission is currently in the process of designing the 2023/2024 work programme of Horizon Europe, just as the strategic plan and first work programme of the CBE JU is in the process of approving. Therefore, the participants were among the first to hear about the strategic directions and ideas (behind the calls for tender) that will shape the next two years. The representatives of the BIOEAST countries also had the opportunity to express their needs to international decision-makers, thus helping to ensure that the perspective of the Central and Eastern European region is reflected in the strategy documents.
The event was opened and moderated by Barna Kovács, BIOEAST Secretary, followed by a presentation by Tomasz Calikowski from the European Commission. He presented the directions set by the 2018 Bioeconomy Strategy; a progress document is expected to be available at the end of May. The document is going to be formally launched at the Bioeconomy Conference in Brussels on 6-7 October 2022, which is currently one of the largest bioeconomy-related professional events in the EU. Tomasz Calikowski stressed the importance of the circular biomass economy. He highlighted the synergies with other European Commission efforts and reported on the progress of the Horizon Europe 2023-2024 work programme, the first calls of which are expected to open at the end of the year.
On behalf of BioBased Industries Consortium (BIC), Marco Rupp presented the organisation and its significant work in the field of the biomass economy. They work in close cooperation with the European Commission, CBE JU being one of the leading organisations alongside the Commission. They currently have over 240 industry members and a further 160+ related actors from the sectors of research, education, trade, and commerce. It has the particularity of being a cross-disciplinary and cross-professional organisation, which is justified also using biomass itself. In addition to his presentation on the BIC, Marco Rupp also introduced the BIC’s regional platform, which is available free of charge to all and can be of particular interest to universities, municipalities, county or regional economic priority planning, in addition to industry. This online platform brings together companies and projects in the bioeconomy but is constantly being expanded to include region-specific information on the funding and financial opportunities available in the region. Currently 36 regions are covered, but the list is growing.
Virginia Puzzolo, Programme Director of CBE JU, introduced the partnership with a budget of € 2 billion. Building on the foundations of the former BBI JU, the new partnership between industry and the Commission is going to continue the work of its predecessor, with overarching objectives such as accelerating innovation in the biomass-based economy, ensuring the market uptake of existing bio-based products and ensuring high environmental performance of bio-based systems. The CBE partnership puts strong emphasis, among other things, on reducing the research development investment risk for bio-based companies and projects, increasing the involvement of actors in the value chains, geographical coverage, and the exploitation of all feedstock potential. In her second presentation, Virginia Puzzolo gave an insight into the main directions of the CBE JU Research and Innovation Strategy, which is going to be adopted by the Partnership in the coming month and made public thereafter. The first calls from the Partnership are expected in June.
On behalf of the BIOEAST Initiative, Biljana Kulišić and Muriel Józó presented the regional needs for bio-based chemical products and the bioenergy sector. They pointed out that in some countries of the Central and Eastern European region biomass-related products already have a dominant share, which should be strengthened while in some parts of the region bioeconomy development can increase the diversity of the economy. The region has few biorefineries. As this kind of investment is too risky for the private sector, it is necessary to support demo investments through tenders. They also highlighted the need for professional communities, investors, and policy makers to have an accurate picture of the existing value chain and feedstocks available in the countries. Most of the available biomass is accumulated by some of the larger market players, so it is essential to identify them and provide them with alternatives to create high added value from the available raw material in sustainable business models. The chemical and related industries represent one of the biggest opportunities for the region, but it is important to note that the issue of bio-based products is a cross-disciplinary one starting in agriculture and creating a product that can be taken up by traditional industries through biorefining (and fermentation). The experts stressed the role of the Common Agricultural Policy as a potential source of funding for biorefineries. They mentioned that although bioenergetics is often separated from biorefining, the two areas have synergies. Particularly issue of biomethane was emphasized.
During the panel discussion, representatives of successful projects presented their experiences, with Blaž Likozar from the BioSPRINT project and Filip Miketa from bio-MI talking about the experience of several successful application cycles. Peep Pitk from the Sweetwoods project was unable to attend the event in person, however, his thoughts to the organisers served as a debate starter in the panel discussion with all participants. The experts highlighted the differences in the national and international tendering landscape and the difficulties companies must face. Furthermore, in an active and honest dialogue, the participants tried to give each other support and advice on how to make the Central and Eastern European region catch up with the rest of the EU through the bioeconomy. There won’t be any other choice than that as” Bioeconomy is going to happen. The only question is whether with or without us” (referring to the Central and Eastern European region – ed.) as the closing remark of the event suggested.