“Building on a strong and competitive agricultural and forest sector as well as on its technological expertise, the strategy should fully engage France on the bioeconomy road and position the country as a global leader in this field”. Boris Dumange, Director General of IAR Pole (French Cluster Industries and Agro Resources), talks to Il Bioeconomista about the bioeconomy in France, where the government announced its own strategy by the end of this year, the role played by IAR Pole, the goals of the intercluster 3BI and the measures the European Union needs to be more competitive. “We believe – Dumange says – actions such as a European preferred public procurement programme or temporary tax incentives for bio-based products could help to bridge the gap between innovation and market uptake and allow sufficient economies of scale to make bio-based products a competing alternative to fossil-based equivalents.”
Interview by Mario Bonaccorso
France announced its own strategy for the bioeconomy by the end of this year. What are your expectations?
The strategy should play a key role in strengthening the bioeconomy which already exists today in France and in supporting further deployment of the sector. In addition to the adoption of a clear action plan and the appropriate budget for its implementation, we believe the strategy is a unique opportunity to communicate to citizens, academia, primary producers, industry as well as local, regional and national policy makers the opportunities that the bioeconomy represents in term of job creations, sustainable growth and consumer benefits. It should also strongly focus on the role of locally implemented biorefineries to revitalize rural and coastal areas. Finally, building on a strong and competitive agricultural and forest sector as well as on its technological expertise, the strategy should fully engage France on the bioeconomy road and position the country as a global leader in this field.
You are an agro-industrial cluster. How important is agriculture-industry supply chain for the French bioeconomy and for the bioeconomy in general?
No feedstock = no bioeconomy. Agriculture and more generally primary production which also includes forest and algae is at the heart of a successful bioeconomy. At IAR, agro-industries are in our DNA. Historically, we have been supported by two French regions which represent more than 3 million hectares of farmed land and which are still today the first French producer of sugar beets, barley, potatoes, protein crops, alfalfa and hemp. IAR’s objective is to maximize the valorization of these renewable resources for food and non-food applications with a focus on four strategic areas: agro-materials, bioenergy, bio-based chemicals and ingredients. Yet, an important part of our activities are dedicated to renewable resources answering questions such as how to grow more with less and how to better mobilise existing resources.
What are the major projects in progress in your cluster?
We are running several small and large projects at the moment but as they involve intellectual property and industrial investments, they are confidential. More generally, we are involved in the set-up of several French and EU projects with a focus on the strategic areas which I mentioned earlier. Part of our activities are dedicated to support innovative start-ups to access funding to scale up their activities. We also provide business intelligence and develop targeted studies on bio-based products and processes. IAR is also a board member of the Biobased Industries Consortium and the BioBased Industries Joint Undertaking with a special mandate to represent SMEs. Finally, we are deeply involved in supporting several demonstration platforms and projects such as BRI (industrial biotechnology), IMPROVE (plant proteins valorisation), PIVERT (oilseed biorefinery) and Futurol (advanced biofuels) which are allowing companies to scale up and demonstrate their products and processes.
During EFIB you announced with other European clusters the establishment of the intercluster 3BI. What are your goals? Is the partnership open also to other European clusters?
3Bi (Brokering Bio-Based innovation) is an initiative of four leading bioeconomy clusters: IAR (France), the Biobased Delta (the Netherlands), BioVale (United Kingdom) and the Bioeconomy Cluster (Germany). It builds on the complementarities of the four clusters to strengthen the European and international network of our clusters. The objective of the intercluster is to help our members to make the most of new markets and new opportunities from the bioeconomy, in Europe and worldwide. Concretely, our members now have access to a wider network when looking for R&I partners and setting up projects. 3BI also offers them new opportunities for networking and business collaborations through working groups and brokerage events for example. In this starting and consolidation stage, the intercluster is not open to new partners. At a later stage we may well open membership wider.
As a major player of the French bioeconomy, what do you believe is necessary for the European Union to be competitive in this meta-sector?
Since the adoption of the Bioeconomy Strategy by the Commission in 2012, the European Union has made significant progress in supporting the bioeconomy, notably through the BioBased Industries Joint Undertaking in which IAR is deeply involved. However, several issues remain to be tackled such as the translation of research and innovation results into marketable products or the lack of understanding of what the bioeconomy is by many citizens, industries and policy makers. We believe actions such as a European preferred public procurement programme or temporary tax incentives for bio-based products could help to bridge the gap between innovation and market uptake and allow sufficient economies of scale to make bio-based products a competing alternative to fossil-based equivalents.