Under the banner the bioeconomy celebrates Nature, the inaugural World BioEconomy Forum took place September 11–13 in Finland’s famous nature resort RUKA. The conference provided a unique blend of current topics, diverse speakers, scientific insights and an equal measure of private and public sector participation. All in a special setting that inspires profound contemplation of man’s role as the guardian of Nature.
Despite (or perhaps because of) the exotic location, the gathering attracted participants from four continent and fifteen different countries. Delegates enjoyed high quality panel discussions on different bioeconomy sector issues, along with local attractions.
Waldemar Kütt, head of EU bioeconomy strategy, revealed to that the budget for research into food and natural resources – the European bioeconomy cluster – is set to double for the period 2021–27 to a level of 10 billion euro. “This large increase is recognition that we are in an economy that is becoming more and more dependent on biological resources to produce food, energy and material in a way that protects the environment and also reduces greenhouse gases”, said Kütt.
The news from the EU Commission made for a healthy start to the forum and dealt with the complete bioeconomy supply chain, from planting forests and crops to final products. The forum program included speakers from several governments throughout Europe, the EU, technology suppliers, major pulp, paper and textile producers and end users, including Sweden’s ubiquitous IKEA. Delegates came from countries all over the world including Europe, India, China, Australia, Indonesia, and the USA.
The bioeconomy sector has been gaining momentum since September 2005 with 50 countries and regions around the world now having a bioeconomy strategy or related document in place. One of the latest countries to reveal its bioeconomy strategy is Latvia, with a sector worth Euro 3.8 billion and providing employment to over 150,000 people. Overall, the bioeconomy is worth Euro 2,300 billion in the EU alone, employing 22 million people. The Latvia case might also serve as a model for other EU members in the north and central eastern European areas.
The world’s forests are seen as one of the key answers in the fight to alleviate climate change, and there was some positive news revealed at the forum. Professor Eduardo Rojas Briales from the University of Valencia in Spain, informed the audience that deforestation is reducing, and forest area increasing globally. “According to our latest figures there are 11% more forest in the world and forest landscapes are gaining momentum,” Briales said. “Wood is the most abundant and affordable raw material, and consistent research has shown that the most productive forests are locally managed by local communities.”
Lauri Hetemäki of the European Forest Institute said, “Biodiversity and the bioeconomy are married together, you can’t have one without the other. This is especially true in a world in which forests have to adapt to climate change.”
The production of textiles is attracting significant interest as a bioeconomy sector with total annual global production reaching 100 million tonnes with a further increase of 50 million tonnes expected by 2030. Michael Carus, founder and managing director of nova-Institute said, “What a lot of consumers don’t realize that that up to 60% of all clothing is derived from fossil fuels and in terms of micro-plastics are the highest polluter on the planet. There is huge potential for manufacturers in this sector to source raw material using cellulosic fibers that biodegrade easily.”
The circular economy was also a prominent topic at the forum with emphasis on utilizing waste streams across the whole value chain. Pulp and paper technology supplier Andritz specializes in designing and supplying pulp and paper mills along with equipment that turns waste streams into viable products. Kari Tuominen, President and CEO of Andritz Oy, said, “There are a lot of real opportunities at pulp mills now to turn side and waste streams into valuable bio-products such as methanol, sulfuric acid, lignin and biogas, bringing extra revenue at the same time as finding an effective way of dealing with waste.”
Finnish Minister of the Interior Kai Mykkänen stressed during his address to delegates that the available biomass capacity in Finland has doubled during the last decades. Also Finnish Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Jari Leppä conveyed his greetings emphasizing important economic value that new innovations in bioeconomy will bring along.
“The bioeconomy community needs to develop a clear, visible corporate identity. Therefore, more global platforms are needed to share views and change views, and to learn mutually about practices, good and bad,” said Jukka Kantola, Chairman of the Advisory Board for the event. “The results of the discussions proved in many ways that this engagement is necessary.”
Preparation for the World BioEconomy Forum 2019 are under way
Organizers of the World BioEconomy Forum are already progressing with the event of 2019. An advisory board is set up and once again includes top-level names from the global bioeconomy community. All are committed to work on the event.
The theme for the forum 2019 will be built around biodiversity and natural products and will contain the following topics:
- Bio-Strategy Implementation
- The Bioeconomy and Climate Change
- Enterprise and New Business in the Bioeconomy
- The Plastics Value Chain
- Natural Products from the forests