The world faces the challenge of responding to not only the new issues emerging from COVID-19 but also those related to climate change and rising restrictions on natural resources, while sustainably meeting a growing demand for energy and food. These are intimately involved with the need to control climate change and the need to switch from high carbon, unsustainable economies to low carbon economies.
Bioeconomy is considered as one of the most important future fields for sustainable economic activity. In this context, the bioeconomy—understood as the knowledge-intensive use of biological resources for the production of products and services across all sectors of the economy—is becoming mainstream as a strategic vision for economic and sustainable development.
Developing the bioeconomy offers a significant opportunity for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) at the global level. Simultaneously, it serves as a strategic instrument for addressing new challenges emerging from the COVID-19 global crisis.
Fields of Bioeconomy
The bioeconomy encompasses the traditional bioeconomy sectors, such as agriculture, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture, as well as related processing and service industries, such as food, paper, textiles, building and construction, chemistry, and bio-pharma. Key enabling and converging technologies, such as bio-, nano- and information technologies, are vitally important to the knowledge-based bioeconomy which uses biobased processes and principles in engineering and across industrial applications.
Agriculture: According to EU Bioeconomy Report 2016, the bioeconomy brings together various sectors of the economy that produce, process and reuse renewable biological resources (agriculture, forestry, fisheries, food, bio-based chemicals and materials and bioenergy). Thus, agriculture is one of the fields of the bioeconomy.
The forest bioeconomy is based on forests and their natural resources and covers a variety of different industry and production processes. Forest bioeconomy includes, for example, the processing of forest biomass to provide products relating to, energy, chemistry, or the food industry. Thus, the forest bioeconomy covers a variety of different manufacturing processes that are based on wood material and the range of end products is wide.
Blue bioeconomy: The blue bioeconomy covers businesses that are based on the sustainable use of renewable aquatic resources as well water-related expertise areas. It covers the development and marketing of blue bioeconomy products and services. In that respect, the key sectors include business activities based on water expertise and technology, water-based tourism, making use of aquatic biomass, and the value chain of fisheries.
Bioenergy: Bioeconomy covers also bioenergy. According to World Bioenergy Association, 17,8 % out of gross final energy consumption was covered with renewables energy. Among renewable energy sources, bioenergy (energy from bio-based sources) is the largest renewable energy. In 2017, bioenergy accounted for 70% of renewable energy consumption.
Almost 60 countries around the world are pursuing bioeconomy-related policies. By adopting bioeconomy strategies, governments are laying the foundation for policy support and investment which in turn enables pioneering research, facilitates the development of new and advanced technologies, supports education and capacity building, drives forward industrialization processes, creates awareness, and helps stimulate consumer demand, according to report from the International Advisory Council on Global Bioeconomy.
The goals underlying the promotion of the bioeconomy in different countries and regions correlate with their resource endowments, economic specialization and general level of socio-economic development. For example, oil-importing countries with large biomass reserves promote bioeconomic development in order to achieve greater independence and generate income from the use of their biological resources. Industrialized countries with a large rural population and a high proportion of those employed in the extractive industries see bioeconomic development as a means of promoting rural development and social inclusion. Industrialized countries with fewer resources and fewer extractive industry jobs are paying more attention to opportunities arising from advances in biosciences and biotechnology.
In these, by accident or design there are clearly countries that put biotechnologies, and in some cases engineering or synthetic biology, at the heart of their strategy. This is best seen in the strategies of the United Kingdom and the United States. Specifically, the Royal Academy of Engineering (UK) Synthetic Biology Inquiry Report presented a detailed strategy for the implementation and development of synthetic biology in the UK. This was built upon by two subsequent UK Government Roadmaps, A Synthetic Biology Roadmap for the UK and Bio Design for the BioEconomy.
Similarly, in the United States, the Engineering Biology Research Consortium (EBRC) published an extensive, detailed roadmap for the development of synthetic biology/engineering biology—a technical research roadmap. Conversely, there are national bioeconomy strategies where biotechnologies have a much lesser role. Interestingly, between the original bioeconomy strategy of the European Union in 2012 and the update in 2018, the role(s) of biotechnology have been very greatly reduced. Tellingly, the unofficial bioeconomy strategy of Canada proposed to use the bioeconomy definition of the European Union but will ‘rely on biotechnology as a competitive advantage’.
Role of emerging technologies in Bioeconomy strategy
Bioplastics are not just one single material. They comprise a whole family of materials with different properties and applications. According to European Bioplastics, a plastic material is defined as a bioplastic if it is either bio-based plastic, biodegradable plastic, or is a material with both properties. Bioplastics have the same properties as conventional plastics and offer additional advantages, such as a reduced carbon footprint or additional waste management options, such as composting
Globally, the textile industry is a strong bioeconomy sector. Textiles are produced from natural fibres, regenerated fibres and synthetic fibres (Sinclair 2014). The natural fibre textile industry is based on cotton, linen, bamboo, hemp, wool, silk, angora, mohair and cashmere.
Textile fibres can be formed in chemical processes from bio-based materials. These fibres are called bio-based regenerated fibres. The oldest regenerated fibres are viscose and rayon, produced in the 19th century. The first industrial processes used a large amount of wood as raw material, as well as harmful chemicals and water. Later the process of regenerating fibres developed to reduce the use of raw materials, chemicals, water and energy.