EC launches bioeconomy strategy
A Brussels – The European Commission is boosting its investments and policy activities to foster sustainability. “Europe needs to make the transition to a post-petroleum economy,” said Máire Geoghegan-Quinn in Brussels. In mid-February, the Research Commissioner unveiled the bloc’s action plan for making the bioeconomy a reality by 2020. “We must drive the transition from a fossil-based to a bio-based society, with research and innovation as a motor,” she stated. “This is good for our environment, our food and energy security, and for Europe’s competitiveness for the future.”
The promise of a more efficient use of biodegradable waste-streams and other biomass to produce foods, chemicals or energy is high, according to Commission estimates (see p. 3). Policymakers say by 2025 they expect a a10 return on each euro now being invested in EU-funded bioeconomy research.
The action plan, entitled “Innovating for Sustainable Growth: a Bioeconomy for Europe”, recommends boosting R&D investment and technology transfer as the most important priorities. The Commission intends to sink a4.7bn into bioeconomy research within its Horizon2020 innovation programme (see EuroBiotechNews 11-12/2011), an investment that has been warmly welcomed by biotech industry stakeholders. “This is a milestone for Europe and the Europeans,” stressed industrial biotech expert Lars Hansen from the bio-industries association EuropaBio, who pointed to the need for additional “support of the member states to make the bioeconomy an EU success story.” Further money will be pumped in via national bioeconomy strategies that have been already been kicked-off in Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland, Finland and Denmark. Additionally, the Commission aims to create PrivatePublic Partnerships to trigger industry investments.
A second pillar in the agenda is improving the biomass value chain by boosting biomass production, establishing logistics to secure biomass supply and improving its conversion into value-added products in industrial-scale biorefineries. Additionally, the Commission announced it will support communication initiatives aimed at informing consumers about the benefits of bio-based products.
Measures remain vague
However, some industry representatives said they had hoped for more specific support from policymakers. “We had hoped for more concrete measures for bioplastics to be integrated into the strategy,” said Andy Sweetman, head of European Bioplastics. “What we need are strong measures to support the market development of bioplastics products.” Kaare Riis Nielsen, director for European affairs at Danish enzyme maker Novozymes, criticised the lack of clear action to support the adoption of second-generation biofuels made from lignocellulose. “Companies will go to the US and China if nothing happens in the policy environment. We need clear political leadership and long-term, stable market conditions,” he said.
According to the Commission, implementation of the bioeconomy in Europe will be dependent on getting all of the involved parties in one boat. Progress will be measured with the help of a newly established Bioeconomy Observatory and Bioeconomy Panel.