The Nordic countries have launched an ambitious plan to fast-track the development of a sustainable bioeconomy in the region. The Nordic Bioeconomy Programme describes 15 action points that push for a boost in research and innovation, policies to accelerate the transition, and stronger collaboration to develop new bio-based products and new markets. This will fuel growth in innovative bio-based businesses and pave the way for improved use of biological resources, including new value chains from crop residues, industrial sidestreams and wastes.
The Nordic countries are already well underway in exploring the potentials of new bio-based products and more resource-efficient utilisation of biological resources. The Nordic Bioeconomy Programme – 15 Action Points for Sustainable Change is the latest in a series of groundbreaking documents on developing a sustainable bioeconomy published by the Nordic Council of Ministers.
“This is a blueprint of how we advance the bioeconomy,” says Hörður G. Kristinsson, Chief Science and Innovation Officer at Matís and chair of the Nordic Bioeconomy Panel, which formulated the action plan. “Each of the Nordic countries has their own ambitions for the bioeconomy, which are based on their different resources. The goal here is to bring them together to pick up the pace, build and harvest synergies and advance innovation in all sectors of the bioeconomy.”
“Combined with the national strategies, the Nordic action plan places the region at the forefront of developing a sustainable bioeconomy,” says Christian Patermann, former Director at the European Commission and a pioneer of the bioeconomy. “The bioeconomy landscape in the region is highly diverse, which makes cooperation and exchange of best practices even more valuable. In my view, the region is currently leading in Europe from the economic, strategic and societal point of view.”
The programme is divided into three key areas of action: innovate, accelerate and network. Among the 15 action points are higher R&D funding and more coherent research efforts across the region, investment support to scale up promising solutions, and several actions to develop better policy frameworks and stronger markets. The network part of the programme is focused on support for Nordic bioeconomy clusters, open access to test and demonstration facilities, and also on joining forces to influence international forums such as the EU, the UN Paris Agreement, and the WTO.
“Each of the Nordic countries has their own ambitions for the bioeconomy, which are based on their different resources. The goal here is to bring them together to pick up the pace and advance innovation in all sectors of the bioeconomy.” (Hörður G. Kristinsson
Chief Science and Innovation Officer at Matís and chair of the Nordic Bioeconomy Panel)
Clear vision for the Nordic bioeconomy
The vision behind the Nordic Bioeconomy Programme is to support the development of competitive bio-based industries, sustainable resource management, resilient and diverse ecosystems, and inclusive economic development. Main focus points include creating higher-value products from the biological resources and supporting job creation in rural areas of the region.
“We want to develop new technologies for processing bioresources that are not being used to their full potential,” says bioeconomy expert Lene Lange, member of the Nordic Bioeconomy Panel. “The aim is to improve resource efficiency by upgrading crop residues, industrial sidestreams and wastes to make higher-value products. This means producing, for example, health-promoting food and feed ingredients and bio-based materials and chemicals before using the residues from such biomass conversion to produce energy.”
“Improved resource efficiency is required to reach between as many as twelve and fourteen of the seventeen UN Sustainable Development Goals. It’s crucial that we use our bioresources better, whether aquatic or terrestrial, in order to reduce our CO2 footprint, mitigate climate change and create new jobs and livelihood opportunities, also in rural areas.”
Incentives to create new markets and increase value
Innovative companies often meet legal obstacles when they want to utilise bioresources that have previously been viewed as waste.
“Policy is highly important for faster implementation,” says Lange. “As an example, it can be difficult to make upgraded use of even totally clean and safe industrial sidestreams, such as bycatch or fisheries and slaughterhouse sidestreams, if they’ve previously been categorized as waste. These obstacles need to be revisited and – if it’s deemed safe to do so – removed.”
Lange explains that, to date, European legislation has offered two types of incentives for the bioeconomy – a directive on blend-in biofuels and biogas subsidies.
“Both these incentives are good because they encourage substituting fossil energy and fossil fuels with bio-based alternatives,” she explains. “However, it’s striking that there have been no incentives for boosting integrated and optimized use of the biomass through biorefining, producing both higher-value products and bio-based energy.”
Networking across countries and sectors
In addition to innovation and policy, the new action programme focuses on networking across the various sectors of the bioeconomy and across country borders. There are already many examples of such collaboration, some of which are presented in another publication initiated by the panel: Nordic Bioeconomy – 25 cases for sustainable change. One of these cases uses toxic industrial waste from paper and pulp production to produce edible fungi, which is then used in fish feed production.
“We’re basically using a waste product from forestry to produce feed and ultimately food,” says Kristinsson. “It’s vital for the Nordic region to develop markets for these new bio-based products.”
“The Nordic home market has the potential of becoming a perfect test bed before we introduce our bioeconomy processes, products and services into global markets. We can set an example on sustainable utilisation of any type of biological resources, while also generating significant value for the consumer, for the industry and for society.”
Digitalisation opens the door to new business models
Digital technology and big data are becoming an increasingly integrated part of the bioeconomy. Kristinsson says that finding new ways to manage and process data would enable better understanding and more sustainable utilisation of the different resources. He takes the Icelandic fishing fleet as an example.
“Every day, the highly sophisticated vessels collect enormous amounts of data about the fishing areas and the resources, and at the moment, this data is not really being used in fisheries management. With new digital technology, we could utilise this real-time data to better understand the resource and manage our fishing efforts.”
According to Patermann, tapping into the potential of digital technology will be a determining factor for the competitiveness of Nordic bioeconomy businesses.
“There are massive opportunities in combining the bioeconomy’s strong innovation potentials with digital technology. 3D and 4D printing of biomaterials are good examples of an area that unlocks a vast potential to create new products and embed new functions – and there are many more.”
“It’s important to keep momentum to gain a leadership position in these new markets,” Patermann adds. “We see that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to obtain industrial data from companies, which is a sign of industrial maturity. They have something of value that they want to keep for themselves. This suggests that the bioeconomy is already more competitive than we think.”
While establishing competitive and sustainable bio-based industries is at the core of the Nordic Bioeconomy Programme, it is highlighted in the programme that increased knowledge sharing, cross-border innovation and coordinated policy efforts will be vital to achieve this goal. The 15 action points for sustainable change provide the Nordic countries with an opportunity to accelerate the transition toward a sustainable and resource-efficient bioeconomy, where nothing goes to waste, creating new industries, jobs and economic growth along the way.
Source: Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way, press release, 2018-09.
Author: Páll Tómas Finnsson