Strengthening European bio-based industries in a competitive global market

By Philippe MENGAL, Executive Director of Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU)

A cornerstone of the EU Bio-economy Strategy

The Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU) initiative is the €3.7 billion public-private partnership between the European Union (EU) represented by the European Commission, and the Bio-based Industries Consortium (BIC). Its objectives are to develop sustainable and competitive bio-based industries in Europe, centred around its flagship first-of-a-kind advanced biorefineries.

This means developing sufficient sustainably sourced biomass, new technologies to fill gaps in value chains, and business models which integrate all the economic actors. The aim is to help European bio-based industries become leaders in the global race towards an economically viable sustainable bioeconomy.

BBI JU’s mission is to implement the Strategic Innovation and Research Agenda (SIRA) developed by the industry and validated by the European Commission, under Horizon2020 rules.

BBI JU organises Calls for proposals to support research, demonstration and deployment activities enabling the collaboration between stakeholders along the entire value chains covering primary production of biomass, processing industry and final use. It does this through implementing a broad industry-led, publicly supported research and innovation funding programme.

It’s a public-private model which is proving its worth:

by the end of 2016, every euro invested by the EU was leveraging €2.6 of private investment proof that already, bio-based industries are actively boosting European economy, and creating sustainable value for its citizens.

Using new technologies to turn renewable biological resources, including residues and wastes from agro-food, forestry and municipal sources, into greener everyday products, through innovative technologies and biore- fineries, the BBI JU will contribute to meeting sustainable development goals for Europe, implementing the EU Bioeconomy Strategy, EU environmental policy and the Juncker priorities as well as playing an increasing role in the new common agriculture policy.

Contributing to Europe’s economy

The bioeconomy already contributes to the economic prosperity of Europe. In 2014 the bioeconomy in the 28 European Union member states was valued at €2.1 trillion euros in turnover and supported 22 million jobs, which is a significant proportion of 10% of the total employment in the Union.

Bio- based industries are a significant sub-sector of the bioeconomy, meaning those industries that exclude food and beverage sectors, primary production from agriculture, fishery and forestry, and animal feed sectors but which includes food and non-food ingredients, biofuels, biomaterials and bio-based chemicals.

Currently the European bio-based industry sector is not organised in a coherent way.
Different industries involved in the bio- economy are at different stages of readiness for commercialisation.

The challenge is now to create the right conditions for investment across different actors, sectors and geographical boundaries. Even when data from 2014 shows that the combined bio-based industries contributed €674 million to the wider European economy and supported 3.3 million jobs, bio-based industries are still seen as ‘emerging’ and therefore risky investments for industry.

The activities of the BBI JU initiative are helping to create the critical mass needed to fully embed bio-based industries at the heart of a sustainable European bioeconomy.

As an example, where private partner BIC members stated they had around € 2 billion of investments in Europe in the pipeline in 2014, this has increased to almost € 5 billion by 2017, putting Europe firmly back on the map as an attractive area to invest in this double-digit growth sector.

Reaping the benefits for European citizens

Europe is committed smart, sustainable and inclusive development, and as part of its response to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, bio-based industries will contribute directly to meeting a number of these, delivered for Europe in a fiercely competitive global setting.

Job creation, resource efficiency, reducing environmental impact from industrial processes and producing high-performing new materials and products are all benefits of an advanced well-organised and productive bio-based sector in Europe.

BBI JU’s role as catalyst is leading to the creation of a competitive bio-based sector in Europe. This is expected to significantly boost employment, as well as support regional development by expanding local economies by regenerating underdeveloped and/or abandoned regions.

This will result in new, higher and more diversified revenues for farmers and cooperatives and create up to 700.000 skilled jobs by 2030, 80% of which will be in rural areas.

Using sustainable resources to replace 30% of oil-based chemicals & materials will help to reduce EU’s dependency on import of fossil raw materials, protein and important mined substances like potassium and phosphates.

Through developing the potential of agricultural side streams & forestry residues and by moving to a bio-based economy there can be an average reduction of 50% greenhouse gasses.

Accelerating the implementation of a bio-based economy for Europe

Europe has always been at the forefront of science, innovation and the development of new technologies.

However investing in scaling up these new innovative technologies tended to take place outside of Europe,

where investor appetite or government subsidy created better conditions to take advantage of opportunities for the commercialisation of bio-based activities. Obvious examples of regions which have benefited greatly from this approach include the US, the Americas and Asia.

BBI JU instigates this multidisciplinary, multi-actor research & development, and stimulates new cross-sector interconnections, organizing partners along new bio-based value chains, ranging from agriculture, energy and the aquatic sector to automotive and construction; chemical industry, food & feed, forestry and pulp & paper, health, home & personal care, packaging, pharmaceutical, textiles, etc.

After 3 years and 4 Calls for proposals, BBI JU has 65 ongoing projects involving more than 730 participants from across large industry, academia and other organisations working in expert consortia spanning 30 countries.

SMEs participate in the programme at a rate of 36% of all beneficiaries and BBI JU already has 6 flagships, 20 demonstration projects, 33 research projects and 6 coordination and support projects up and running.

Indicators show progress against project and programme targets in a number of areas including new collaborations and value chains, new technologies and processes, new products and business models.

The BBI JU is demonstrating itself ‘to be a concrete example of the EU’s efforts towards strengthening its competitiveness through scientific excellence, industry led research, openness and innovation’.

According to the European Commission findings so far for the programme, the mobilising and structuring effects of BBI JU activities are confirmed.