Biobased economy, bioeconomy or biotechonomy refers to economic activity involving the use of biotechnology and biomass in the production of goods, services, or energy. The terms are widely used by regional development agencies, national and international organizations, and biotechnology companies. They are closely linked to the evolution of the biotechnology industry and the capacity to study, understand, and manipulate genetic material that has been possible due to scientific research and technological development. This includes the application of scientific and technological developments to agriculture, health, chemical, and energy industries. The terms bioeconomy (BE) and bio-based economy (BBE) are sometimes used interchangeably. However, it is worth to distinguish them. Biobased economy takes into consideration the production of non-food goods, whilst bioeconomy covers both bio-based economy and the production and use of food and feed.
Origins and definitions
Bioeconomy has large variety of definitions. The bioeconomy comprises those parts of the economy that use renewable biological resources from land and sea – such as crops, forests, fish, animals and micro-organisms – to produce food, health, materials, products, textiles and energy.
In 2010 it was defined in the report “The Knowledge Based Bio-Economy (KBBE) in Europe: Achievements and Challenges” by Albrecht & al. as follows: The bio-economy is the sustainable production and conversion of biomass, for a range of food, health, fibre and industrial products and energy, where renewable biomass encompasses any biological material to be used as raw material.”
The First Global Bioeconomy Summit in Berlin in November 2015 defines bioeconomy as “knowledge-based production and utilization of biological resources, biological processes and principles to sustainably provide goods and services across all economic sectors”. According to the summit, bioeconomy involves three elements: renewable biomass, enabling and converging technologies, and integration across applications concerning primary production (i.e. all living natural resources), health (i.e. pharmaceuticals and medical devices), and industry (i.e. chemicals, plastics, enzymes, pulp and paper, bioenergy).
An important aspect of the bioeconomy is understanding mechanisms and processes at the genetic, molecular, and genomic levels, and applying this understanding to creating or improving industrial processes, developing new products and services, and producing new energy. Bioeconomy aims to reduce our dependence on fossil natural resources, to prevent biodiversity loss and to create new economic growth and jobs in line with the principles of sustainable development .
Enríquez and Martinez' 2002 Harvard Business School working paper, "Biotechonomy 1.0: A Rough Map of Biodata Flow", showed the global flow of genetic material into and out of the three largest public genetic databases: GenBank, EMBL and DDBJ. The authors then hypothesized about the economic impact that such data flows might have on patent creation, evolution of biotech startups and licensing fees. An adaptation of this paper was published in Wired magazine in 2003.
The term 'bioeconomy' became popular from the mid-2000s with its adoption by the European Union and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development as a policy agenda and framework to promote the use of biotechnology to develop new products, markets, and uses of biomass. Since then, both the EU (2012) and OECD (2006) have created dedicated bioeconomy strategies, as have an increasing number of countries around the world. Often these strategies conflate the bioeconomy with the term 'bio-based economy'. For example, since 2005 the Netherlands has sought to promote the creation of a biobased economy. Pilot plants have been started i.e. in Lelystad (Zeafuels), and a centralised organisation exists (Interdepartementaal programma biobased economy), with supporting research (Food & Biobased Research) being conducted. Other European countries have also developed and implemented bioeconomy or bio-based economy policy strategies and frameworks.
Global population growth and over consumption of many resources are causing increasing environmental pressure and climate change. Bioeconomy tackles with these challenges. It aims to ensure food security and to promote more sustainable natural resource use as well as to reduce the dependence on non-renewable resources, e.g. fossil natural resources and minerals. In some extent bioeconomy also helps economy to reduces greenhouse gas emissions and assists in mitigating and adapting to climate change.
Biomass is renewable nature resource but it is still limited resource. Globally there are huge resources, but it the environmental, social and economic aspect are limiting the use. Biomass, however, can play important role and source of products towards low-carbon solutions in the field of customer supplies, energy, food and feed. In practice, there are many competing uses.
The biobased economy uses first-generation biomass (crops), second-generation biomass (crop refuge), and third-generation biomass (seaweed, algae). Several methods of processing are then used (in biorefineries) to gather the most out of the biomass. This includes techniques such as
Anaerobic digestion is generally used to produce biogas, fermentation of sugars produces ethanol, pyrolysis is used to produce pyrolysis-oil (which is solidified biogas), and torrefaction is used to create biomass-coal. Biomass-coal and biogas is then burnt for energy production, ethanol can be used as a (vehicle)-fuel, as well as for other purposes, such as skincare products.
Bioproducts or bio-based products are products that are made from biomass. The term “bioproduct” refers to a wide array of industrial and commercial products that are characterized by a variety of properties, compositions and processes, as well as different benefits and risks.
Bio-based products are developed in order to reduce dependency on fossil fuels and non-renewable resources. To achieve this, the key is to develop new bio-refining technologies to sustainably transform renewable natural resources into bio-based products, materials and fuels, e.g.
Bioplastics are not just one single material. They comprise a whole family of materials with different properties and applications. According to European Bioplastics, a plastic material is defined as a bioplastic if it is either bio-based plastic, biodegradable plastic, or is a material with both properties. Bioplastics have the same properties as conventional plastics and offer additional advantages, such as a reduced carbon footprint or additional waste management options, such as composting.
Bioplastics are divided into three main groups:
- Bio-based or partially bio-based non-biodegradable plastics such as bio-based PE, PP, or PET (so-called drop-ins) and bio-based technical performance polymers such as PTT or TPC-ET
- Plastics that are both bio-based and biodegradable, such as PLA and PHA or PBS
- Plastics that are based on fossil resources and are biodegradable, such as PBAT
Additionally, new materials such as PLA, PHA, cellulose or starch-based materials offer solutions with completely new functionalities such as biodegradability and compostability, and in some cases optimized barrier properties. Along with the growth in variety of bioplastic materials, properties such as flexibility, durability, printability, transparency, barrier, heat resistance, gloss and many more have been significantly enhanced.
Examples of bioplastics
Paptic: There are packaging materials which combine the qualities of paper and plastic. For example, Paptic is produced from wood-based fibre that contains more than 70% wood. The material is formed with foam-forming technology that saves raw material and improves the qualities of the material. The material can be produced as reels, which enables it to be delivered with existing mills. The material is spatter-proof but is decomposed when put under water. It is more durable than paper and maintains its shape better than plastic. The material is recycled with cardboards.
Examples of bio-composites
Sulapac tins are made from wood chips and biodegradable natural binder and they have features similar to plastic. These packaging products tolerate water and fats, and they do not allow oxygen to pass. Sulapac products combine ecology, luxury and are not subject to design limitations. Sulapac can compete with traditional plastic tins by cost and is suitable for the same packing devices.
Woodio produces wood composite sinks and other bathroom furniture. The composite is produced by moulding a mixture of wood chips and crystal clear binder. Woodio has developed a solid wood composite that is entirely waterproof. The material has similar features to ceramic, but can be used as energy after use. unlike ceramic waste. Solid wood composite is hard and can be moulded with wooden tools.
Woodcast is a renewable and biodegradable casting material. It is produced from woodchips and biodegradable plastic. It is hard and durable in room temperature but when heated is flexible and self-sticky. Woodcast can be applied to all plastering and supporting elements. The material is breathable and X-ray transparent. It is used in plastering and in occupational therapy and can be moulded to any anatomical shape. Excess pieces can be reused: used casts can be disposed of either as energy or biowaste. The composite differs from traditional lime cast in that it doesn’t need water and it is non-toxic. Therefore gas-masks, gauntlets or suction fans are not required when handling the cast.
Globally, the textile industry is a strong bioeconomy sector. Textiles are produced from natural fibres, regenerated fibres and synthetic fibres (Sinclair 2014). The natural fibre textile industry is based on cotton, linen, bamboo, hemp, wool, silk, angora, mohair and cashmere.
Textile fibres can be formed in chemical processes from bio-based materials. These fibres are called bio-based regenerated fibres. The oldest regenerated fibres are viscose and rayon, produced in the 19th century. The first industrial processes used a large amount of wood as raw material, as well as harmful chemicals and water. Later the process of regenerating fibres developed to reduce the use of raw materials, chemicals, water and energy.
In the 1990s the first more sustainable regenerated fibres, e.g. Lyocell, entered the market with the commercial name of Tencel. The production process uses wood cellulose and it processes the fibre without harmful chemicals.
The next generation of regenerated fibres are under development. The production processes use less or no chemicals, and the water consumption is also diminished.
Getting the most out of the biomass
For economic reasons, the processing of the biomass is done according to a specific pattern (a process called cascading). This pattern depends on the types of biomass used. The whole of finding the most suitable pattern is known as biorefining. A general list shows the products with high added value and lowest volume of biomass to the products with the lowest added value and highest volume of biomass:
- fine chemicals/medicines
- transport fuels
- electricity and heat
Organisms, ranging from bacteria over yeasts up to plants are used for production of enzymatic catalysis. Genetically modified bacteria have been used to produce insulin, artemisinic acid was made in engineered yeast. Some bioplastics (based on polyhydroxylbutyrate or polyhydroxylalkanoates are produced from sugar using genetically modified microbes.
Research is also being done towards CO2 fixation using a synthetic metabolic pathway. By genetically modifying E. coli bacteria so as to allow them to consume CO2, the bacterium may provide the infrastructure for the future renewable production of food and green fuels.
One of the organisms (Ideonella S-sakaiensis) that is able to break down PET (a plastic) into other substances has been genetically modified to break down PET even faster and also break down PEF. Once plastics (which are normally non-biodegradable) are broken down and recycled into other substances (i.e. biomatter in the case of Tenebrio molitor larvae) it can be used as an input for other animals.
Genetically modified crops are also used. Genetically modified energy crops for instance may provide some additional advantages such as reduced associated costs (i.e. costs during the manufacturing process ) and less water use. One example are trees have been genetically modified to either have less lignin, or to express lignin with chemically labile bonds.
Fields of Bioeconomy
According to European Union Bioeconomy Strategy updated in 2018 the bioeconomy covers all sectors and systems that rely on biological resources (animals, plants, micro-organisms and derived biomass, including organic waste), their functions and principles. It covers all primary production and economic and industrial sectors that base on use, production or processing biological resources from agriculture, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture. The product of bioeconomy are typically food, feed and other biobased products, bioenergy and services based on biological resources. The bioeconomy aims to drive towards sustainability, circularity as well as the protection of the environment and will enhance biodiversity.
In some definitions, bioeconomy comprises also ecosystem services that are services offered by the environment, including binding carbon dioxide and opportunities for recreation. Another key aspect of the bioeconomy is not wasting natural resources but using and recycling them efficiently.
According to EU Bioeconomy Report 2016, the bioeconomy brings together various sectors of the economy that produce, process and reuse renewable biological resources (agriculture, forestry, fisheries, food, bio-based chemicals and materials and bioenergy). Thus, agriculture is one of the fields of bioeconomy.
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The forest bioeconomy is based on forests and their natural resources, and covers a variety of different industry and production processes. Forest bioeconomy includes, for example, the processing of forest biomass to provide products relating to, energy, chemistry, or the food industry. Thus, forest bioeconomy covers a variety of different manufacturing processes that are based on wood material and the range of end products is wide.
Besides different wood-based products, recreation, nature tourism and game are a crucial part of forest bioeconomy. Carbon sequestration and ecosystem services are also included to the concept of forest bioeconomy.
Pulp, paper, packaging materials and sawn timber are the traditional products of the forest industry. Wood is also traditionally used in furniture and construction industries. But in addition to these, as a renewable natural resource, ingredients from wood can be valorised into innovative bioproducts, alongside a range of conventional forest industry products. Thus, traditional mill sites of large forest industry companies, for example in Finland, are in the process of becoming biorefineries. In different processes, forest biomass is used to produce for example, textiles, chemicals, cosmetics, fuels, medicine, intelligent packaging, coatings, glues, plastics, food and feed.
The blue bioeconomy covers businesses that are based on the sustainable use of renewable aquatic resources as well water related expertise areas. It covers the development and marketing of blue bioeconomy products and services. In that respect, the key sectors include business activities based on water expertise and technology, water-based tourism, making use of aquatic biomass, and the value chain of fisheries. Furthermore, the immaterial value of aquatic natural resources is also very high. Water areas have also other values but the platform of economic activities. It provides human well-being, recreation and health.
According to the European Union the blue bioeconomy has the focus on aquatic or marine environments, especially, on novel aquaculture applications, including non-food, food and feed.
In the European Report on the Blue Growth Strategy - Towards more sustainable growth and jobs in the blue economy (2017) the blue bioeconomy is defined different than blue economy. The blue economy means the industries that are related to marine environment activities, e.g. shipbuilding, transport, coastal tourism, renewable energies, such as off-shore windmills, living and non-living resources.
Bioeconomy covers also bioenergy. According to World Bioenergy Association 17,8 % out of gross final energy consumption was covered with renewables energy. Among renewable energy sources, bioenergy (energy from bio-based sources) is the largest renewable energy. In 2017, bioenergy accounted for 70% of the renewable energy consumption. (Global bioenergy statistics 2019)
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