How would you know if the bio-based cup from which you are drinking your coffee is actually sustainable? The question of sustainable certification and branding for bio-based products, as well as key actions to be taken to support the expansion of the European bioeconomy, were at the centre of discussions during the workshop organised by the BIOrescue project on 28 February in Mainz.
The event, hosted by the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research, and organised in cooperation with Imperial College, with support from Greenovate! Europe and project coordinator CENER, brought together over 30 actors from bio-based value chains, including researchers, industry players, clusters and network representatives, as well as standardisation consultancies. Through presentations and open exchanges, participants outlined a set of principles and priorities to guide bio-based products and processes towards successful market uptake in the European Union.
Biomass sources are flourishing across Europe, making the bio-based industry a fruitful business to invest in for the future. Nevertheless, along the way towards sustainable bio-based value chains, the availability of suitable infrastructures is essential for developing and validating new processes. To that end, the Pilots4U initiative, introduced by Lieve Hoflack, Project Acquisition Manager at Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant, has created a free online database to help partners find open access pilot plants to test and improve their concepts.
As well as equipment, another key element to bring bio-based value chain actors closer together is industrial clustering and networking. As an example, the Cradle to Cradle school of thought in Germany, represented in the event by Nadine Kümmel, has created regional stakeholder groups to close the loop from research to market and make circular economy a reality in the country and beyond. For Frederik Wurm, Research group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research and partner of the BIOrescue project, such networks help in bridging the gap between different sectors to develop new bio-based products: “Within BIOrescue for instance, we connected chemistry and agriculture by developing biodegradable nanocarriers from mushroom compost, a natural source of lignin. The capsules can be loaded with biopesticides or fertilisers, and thus return to the agro-food industry, but they also have a myriad of different uses in other sectors, such as pharmaceuticals or food enhancement”.
The bio-based economy has huge growth potential in Europe, with the packaging industry, for example, representing 40% of the global market, with only 2% of packaging currently made from renewable materials. But for this potential to be fully exploited, new bio-based products need to be market-oriented, as highlighted in the workshop by Athanassios Nikolakopoulos, Senior Researcher at the National Technical University of Athens and representative of the BIOPEN innovation platform. This means actors from the whole value chain, and especially consumers, must be involved in the design of new bio-based products, and made aware of their environmental benefits. To support this effort, the STAR4BBI project, presented during the workshop by Tatevik Babayan, Scientific Associate at Nova-Institute, prepared tailored recommendations to coordinate the development of a favourable and harmonised European standardisation framework for bio-based products, identifying current gaps and issues, such as waste regulations or competition in subsidies with biofuels.
In conclusion, workshop participants identified the need for a strong and common political vision at the European level as a critical factor to safeguard investment in the bioeconomy sector. In this regard, outcomes from the discussions will feed the policy recommendations to be developed by the BIOrescue project and presented at the project’s final conference, to be held on 4 April 2019 in Brussels.