“Europe is becoming a very attractive area to invest in bio-based Industries: where BIC members were announcing a portfolio of 2bn euros investment in 2014 the same survey announced 5 bn euros investments in 2017”. To say it – in this long, exclusive interview with Il Bioeconomista – is Philippe Mengal, executive director of the BBI JU. The Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking is a €3.7 billion Public-Private Partnership between the EU and the Bio-based Industries Consortium. Operating under Horizon 2020, it is driven by the Vision and Strategic Innovation and Research Agenda (SIRA) developed by the industry
According to Mengal, “The next decade is a critical period for the EU. We need to reinvent our economy to face the challenges of climate change and resource constraints. Europe is committed to excelling in smart, sustainable growth and mobilizing investment to create new products and new markets is key”.
Interview by Mario Bonaccorso
What is your evaluation of the activity done till now by BBI JU?
Through its collaborative model, BBI JU is bridging the gap between research and market, stimulating the Research & Innovation in Europe and integrating economic actors along the whole value chain. BBI JU remains an important pillar of Europe’s bioeconomy strategy, playing a key role in creating markets for bio-based products and enabling a sustainable bio-based circular economy. By demonstrating the scaling up effect, BBI JU is helping to convince brand owners to engage creating new markets and products for consumers, and leading to far-reaching impact on the economy at both regional and international level.
The achievements of the BBI JU project portfolio have been confirmed by the interim evaluation of BBI JU. This evaluation was carried out by independent experts and their report highlights that BBI JU is an instrument very relevant to the bio-industries and is very well aligned with the initial challenges. It states that BBI JU is an example in terms of transparency and openness, as well as in creating synergies and complementarities with other initiatives. According to the experts, the two main positive effects of BBI JU are the evident structuring effect in organising the value chains and the mobilizing effect on all stakeholders. In addition to these key aspects, other important achievements are also highlighted in the report, such as effectiveness in implementation; significant private sector participation, translating private investment into a high leverage effect; BBI JU’s specific KPIs well on track; and a high participation rate of SMEs (38%), well above the Horizon 2020 target of 20%.
The European Union is discussing the FP9. What are your evaluation and requests?
Indeed the FP9 will be one of the biggest inter-institutional debates between the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Member-States. However, we have seen encouraging signs from the European Parliament asking the increasing of the budget dedicated to Research & Innovation. To my opinion, the attention to R&I initiatives should continue in order to ensure that Europe will not only continue to be a hub for the creation and development of innovative ideas but the actual place where the investment is done and where those ideas come to reality. Having said that, I repeat these are questions that will be conducted at an inter-institutional level and we will be obviously following the debate among the institutions.
The European Commission aims at increasing awareness, acceptance and societal confidence in bio-based products and industries, improving end-consumers engagement in the bioeconomy. How is it possible to achieve these goals?
BBI JU further strengthens the whole value chain approach by a greater participation of end users and consumers so that bio-based products are part of consumers’ daily life. A lot of effort is still required to improve consumer awareness and education and several BBI JU projects are working towards that goal. One good example is the BioCannDo project, which aims to create and diffuse information about the potential and long-term benefits of a vibrant bio-based economy sector, explaining to the wider public that the bio-based economy offers something desirable, with new products, functionalities and day-to-day applications. We can already see that consumers are waiting for bio-based alternative products and the retailers claim their shelves would welcome those products. In parallel, brand owners are increasingly participating in the BBI JU initiative. Brand owners should further promote this market and sell bio-based products strongly supported by all major EU retailers. Thanks to this market push and huge investments in communication and education, consumers should be fully aware on the benefits of bio-based products. Moreover, NGOs and consumer associations could also encourage the use of bio-based products.
These are signs that will enable the end-consumers to trust that bio-based industries can lead to an environmentally friendly growth and at the same time boost employment, support the regional development and expand local economies. Overall, everyone benefits from a strong European bio-based industrial sector. A sustainable, resource-efficient bio-based economy is capable of delivering everyday products that are many times superior to fossil-based ones by their outstanding performance.
In the European Union, there are different funds to support the bioeconomy. How can we reconcile all in order to avoid waste of money and significantly support the bioeconomy?
Public-private partnerships are a unique model in the sense of the involvement and commitment they require from all the members. As such, they are an instrument covering an area not addressed by other initiatives. Overall, BBI JU has been creating an attractive arena for investment in Europe, by encouraging and support the cooperation throughout the value chains (structuring effect) and by its mobilizing effect. BBI JU represents a strong political signal at EU level, due to the stable long-term framework that it provides, critical to attract and secure long-term investments from the private sector.
BBI JU has a strong and unique emphasis on demonstration and flagship actions, paving the way for industry to deploy and commercialise the results and attracting significant industrial participation and leverage.
The Lamy report “Lab Fab App” concludes that investing in research and innovation is the best option we have to creating the future we want, rather than have the future created for us. By injecting public funding in BBI JU, policy makers continue to shape the sustainable European bio-based industries to generate competitiveness and create value for EU citizen. A consolidated and sustainable BBI JU that takes into account the proper management of the competition with food, the respect of biodiversity and the best practices of water and soil management, will be needed to fully deliver expected impacts for the environment and the society. The Lamy report also claims that Europeans remain good at generating scientific knowledge bur are not yet good enough at getting growth out of science. For that reason, funding Innovation Actions by BBI JU remains crucial for accelerating the transformation of research outputs into innovation and deployment in Europe. Besides that, the Lamy report states that Europe’s innovation deficit does not stem from the lack of ideas or a lack of start-ups, but rather lack of scale-up. In that sense, the attractiveness of Europe for investment should be further consolidated. Continuity is key in order to reap the full benefits of the overall initiative and a second generation of BBI JU is needed.
North America, Brazil or China have extensive biomass resources and are benefitting from R&D-investment programs and strong political impetus for the bioeconomy. How can Europe compete at global level in the bioeconomy?
Europe already competes efficiently thanks to its strengths (expertise, science, leading companies and research centers) and specificities. As an example, our primary sector is more diverse and fragmented than the one of North America or China. But most importantly Europe has a clear strategy targeting a sustainable bio-based economy for Europe creating competitiveness and value for citizen; it is not simply business-driven. Thanks to instruments like BBI JU, the growth of the EU bio-based market is aligned with the EU Bioeconomy Strategy. It is achieved by managing the risk of competition with the production of biomass for food and animal feed and without pressure on biodiversity. As a result and as illustrated by the survey performed by BIC every year, Europe is becoming a very attractive area to invest in bio-based Industries: where BIC members were announcing a portfolio of 2bn euros investment in 2014 the same survey announced 5 bn euros investments in 2017.
The next decade is a critical period for the EU. We need to reinvent our economy to face the challenges of climate change and resource constraints. Europe is committed to excelling in smart, sustainable growth and mobilizing investment to create new products and new markets is key. Europe’s commitment to building the world’s leading bioeconomy remains critical to achieve growth and this is our opportunity to create the bio-based industry sector that we want to have in Europe: a sustainable bioeconomy sector creating competitiveness, jobs, investment and added-value to the citizens.