“Biobased products are perfect examples of the shift towards a circular economy as they are made from renewable raw materials rather than from finite fossil carbon sources. However, the link between the bioeconomy and the circular economy is not always made and we need it to be better recognised in order to ensure that the right supportive measures are put in place to help enable this transition. This is why we are focusing on the circular economy in anticipation of the European Commission’s proposal which is due out towards the end of this year”. To say it in this exclusive interview with Il Bioeconomista is Nathalie Moll, Secretary General of EuropaBio, the European Association for Bioindustries. With Moll we talk about bioeconomy, biotechnology, circular economy and EFIB, the European Forum for Industrial Biotechnology and the Bioeconomy, which will take place next October 27-29 in Brussels.
Interview by Mario Bonaccorso
Ms Moll, What is the role of biotechnology in the bioeconomy and particularly in biorefineries?
Biotechnology, in particular industrial or white biotech, is an essential ‘Key enabler’ of a wider bioeconomy. It is the technology which is increasingly enabling a wide variety of sectors from primary producers, such as farmers and forest owners, to consumer brands to create products and processes based on renewable raw materials rather than on newly extracted fossil carbon. As such, industrial biotech is helping to pave the way towards a lower carbon economy, whilst creating jobs and growth in rural and coastal EU areas. Biorefineries are at the heart of this transition and industrial biotech plays a vital role in developing the enzymes and fermentation processes used in biorefineries to enable this transformation of biomass that has sometimes been previously considered to be a ‘waste product’ into valuable every day end products with environmental, economic and societal benefits.
In October, EuropaBio will organise together with Smithers Rapra, EFIB in Brussels. What are the objectives of the Forum?
EFIB has always been the meeting place of policy and business within the bioeconomy. It provides us with an unparalleled opportunity to showcase the successes and discuss the barriers still remaining to the development of a smarter, more sustainable bioeconomy enabled by industrial biotech. In order to do this effectively we have always aimed to bring together thought leaders and pioneers from throughout the biobased value chain from primary producers to technology providers, to brands and consumer product manufacturers. It’s also vital to ensure the participation of civil society groups such as NGOs and to enable high level participation of EU decision makers to ensure balanced and informed discussions. EFIB has been the forum for discussion around many new developments and ideas for biobased industries including the €3.7 billion Biobased Industries Joint Undertaking.
For the first time EFIB refers to the circular economy. What is it? And how is it linked to the bioeconomy?
A circular economy is one that is restorative by design, and which aims to keep products, components and materials at their highest utility and value at all times, distinguishing between technical and biological cycles. Developing a resource efficient, high added value bioeconomy is a crucial part of this vision and it will be facilitated by industrial biotech and biobased industries. Biobased products are perfect examples of the shift towards a circular economy as they are made from renewable raw materials rather than from finite fossil carbon sources. However, the link between the bioeconomy and the circular economy is not always made and we need it to be better recognised in order to ensure that the right supportive measures are put in place to help enable this transition. This is why we are focusing on the circular economy in anticipation of the European Commission’s proposal which is due out towards the end of this year.
France and Spain have announced their strategic plan for the bioeconomy by the end of the year. How important are national plans to promote the development of the bioeconomy?
These developments send an important signal that France and Spain really see the value, in terms of jobs, growth and environmental benefits, in supporting the bioeconomy. Member state Officials are acknowledging that coherent, harmonized strategies, across the many policy sectors that make up the bioeconomy, including climate, energy, agriculture, environment, industry and research and innovation, are needed to improve resource efficiency and add value throughout the value chain. The bioeconomy will always mean different things to different people and it’s important that national and regional authorities can develop their strategies in ways that play to their own distinctive strengths.
In EFIB there will be a session focused on funding for the bio-economy. How do you consider the steps taken in the past year in this field by the European Commission?
One of the biggest developments steered by the Commission has been the beginning of the first ever €3.7 billion Joint Undertaking for Biobased Industries. This is a landmark initiative which highlights the EU’s commitment to research and innovation in this field. But more can and must be done and this will be discussed in our financing track at EFIB. Secondly, work is underway to explore the possibilities of having greater support for public procurement of biobased products in Europe which will also be one of our topics for discussion. In addition, the Commission’s focus on circular economy and on creating incentives for those industries that help use resources more efficiently and reduce CO2 emissions should provide future support for biobased industries enabled by industrial biotech.