Biobased economy

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Biobased economy, bioeconomy or biotechonomy refers to economic activity involving the use of biotechnology in the production of (bio-based) goods, services, or energy from biological material (or biomass) as the primary resource base. 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.

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.[1][2]


The term 'biotechonomy' was used by Juan Enríquez and Rodrigo Martinez at the Genomics Seminar in the 1997 AAAS meeting. An excerpt of this paper was published in Science."[3] 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.[4] An adaptation of this paper was published in Wired magazine in 2003.[5]

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.[6] Since then, both the EU (2012) and OECD (2006) have created dedicated bioeconomy strategies, as have an increasing number of countries around the world.[7] 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.[8] 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.[9] Other European countries have also developed and implemented bioeconomy or bio-based economy policy strategies and frameworks.[10]

In 2012 president Barack Obama of the USA announced intentions to encourage biological manufacturing methods, with a National Bioeconomy Blueprint.[11]

In practice[edit]

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.[12]

Getting the most out of the biomass[edit]

For economic reasons, the processing of the biomass is done according to a specific pattern. This pattern, as well as the quantities, 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:[13]

  • fine chemicals/medicines
  • food
  • chemicals/bioplastics
  • transport fuels
  • electricity and heat

Some research is being conducted as well in order to improve the manufacturing processes. For example, to make plastics, paint, medicines, antifreeze out of syngas, a new catalyst has been invented by Krijn de Jong.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Smyth, S. J., Aerni, P., Castle, D., Demont, M., Falck-Zepeda, J. B., Paarlberg, R., Phillips, P. W. B., Pray, C. E., Savastano, S., Wesseler, J., Zilberman, D. (2011). Sustainability and the bioeconomy: Policy recommendations from the 15th ICABR conference. AgBioForum, 14(3), 180-186
  2. ^ Wesseler, J., D. S. Spielman, M. Demont (eds.) (2011): The Future of Governance in the Global Bioeconomy: Policy, Regulation, and Investment Challenges for the Biotechnology and Bioenergy Sectors. AgBioForum, 13(4), 288-290
  3. ^ Enríquez-Cabot, Juan. "Genomics and the World's Economy." Science 281 (14 August 1998): 925-926.
  4. ^ Juan Enríquez, Rodrigo Martinez. "Biotechonomy 1.0: A Rough Map of Biodata Flow", Harvard Business School working paper # 03-028, August 2002.
  5. ^ Rodrigo Martinez, Juan Enríquez, Jonathan West. "DNA Space. The Geography of the Genome", Wired, June 2003. p. 160.
  6. ^ Birch, Kean (2019). Neoliberal Bio-economies? The Co-construction of Markets and Natures. London: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 64–67. ISBN 978-3-319-91424-4.
  7. ^ "German Bioeconomy Council".
  8. ^ Biobased
  9. ^ Schematic showing the biomass and processes used in Zeafuels Archived April 26, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ McCormick, Kes; Kautto, Niina (2013). "The Bioeconomy in Europe: An Overview". Sustainability. 5 (6): 2589–2608. doi:10.3390/su5062589.
  11. ^ White House Promotes a Bioeconomy April 26, 2012
  12. ^ ACCRES
  13. ^ Kijk magazine, number 8, 2011
  14. ^ New catalyst for making plastics, paint, medicines, antifreeze out of syngas[permanent dead link]

External links[edit]