16 September 2015

Crowded at “Status of the Bioeconomy” Conference

European countries are well positioned in the global bioeconomy race

Participants from all Norway met in Oslo last week to get updated on the “Status of the Bioeconomy” when Innovation Norway invited to a seminar on the topic.

Four international experts gave the audience a European overview, and some advice to the ongoing process of a Bioeconomy strategy for Norway.

Novel applications such as 3D Printing and disruptive technologies like Synthetic Biology, are both global trends and “gamechangers” in the Bioeconomy.

– Imagine going to the shop and asking them to PRINT your bike in the future, says bioeconomy specialist Adrian Higson, NNFCC to the audience in the crowded conference hall.

European outlook

According to Higson, the Bioeconomy in Europe has a current value of an estimated €2 trillion, 22 million jobs and 9% of total employment. European countries are well positioned in the global bioeconomy race, thanks to world leading research and innovation capabilities.

– However, Higson underlines, to be able to compete with the US, Brazil and China, EU must focus more on its production costs, the policy landscape and its commercial activity.

The speakers agree there is a need of clear and stable long term policies in Europe, thus it was probably surprising for the delegates to learn from Michael Carus, that it seems to be no correlation between a road map and the investment activity in bioeconomy. Carus from the nova-Institute in Germany explains:

– The largest European Bioeconomy investments 2014-2015 were made in France, Italy and Finland. As an example, Italy does not have a specific bioeconomy roadmap.

Building a new industry

Synthetic biology has enabled an explosion of start-up companies targeting markets from flavors and fragrances to personal care. Synthetic biology is a way to create and customize a microorganism chemically so that it is optimally aligned on to something that society needs. It couples the ability to create completely novel biological systems with predictability of outcome.

– Synthetic biology will have great importance for future development and Europe is investing in it, says James Philp, OECD. However, the greatest benefits will be obtained by integrating it into key sectors, such as chemicals and agriculture.

From fossil feedstocks to biomass

– The value of biomass is 10 times higher as chemical building block, than if it is used for biogas or bio-electricity, says Johan Sanders, University of Wageningen, Holland. His take-home-message to Norwegian farmers is that it is quite possible to achieve profitability in small biorefineries which are utilizing local feedstock. Biorefinery for feed, materials and chemicals could create good income for agriculture.

– But, if you want to do biorefining without subsidies, you have to know the economics, says Sanders. You will need both high value and high volumes, and to benefit from other components in the biomass, such as the side catch, since this will optimize the combined income.

A strategy for Norway

Thomas A. Malla, Norwegian Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries gave an insight into the process of a new bioeconomy strategy for Norway. The strategy should provide guidance and specify cross-sectoral priorities for a coordinated national effort. It is planned to be presented at the beginning of 2016. Malla is leading the strategy working group.

Almost 150 delegates had signed up for the conference in Oslo Science Park on 2 September, 2015. Organizers were Innovation Norway with support from Industrial Biotech Network Norway (IBNN).

Source: Industrial Biotech Network, press release, 2015-09-09.

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