An interview with Dirk Carrez, BIC. “In 2050, we will live in a Circular Bio-Society”

Dirk Carrez

“The Bio-based industry grows really strong in confidence. In just a few years, it moved mountains by creating new value chains. This means new partnerships between sectors that never worked together before”. Dirk Carrez, executive director of BIC, which represents the private sector in a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) with the European Commission, also known as the Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU), talks to Il Bioeconomista. In this long interview with us he talks about the main achievements of the bio-based industry in Europe and its new vision 2050. “Only with a renewed BBI JU will we be able to effectively work towards realising the Circular Bio-Society”, he says.

Interview by Mario Bonaccorso

What do you think are the bio-based industry’s main achievements in Europe?

The Bio-based industry grows really strong in confidence. In just a few years, it moved mountains by creating new value chains. This means new partnerships between sectors that never worked together before. The Bio-based sector breaks away from linear industrial models, exploring and finding new ways of collaborating to address our societal challenges. You can see these novel partnerships in action in the more than 80 bio-based projects managed by the EU Public-Private Partnership on Bio-based Industries (BBI JU). Importantly, these include 24 demonstration projects and 7 flagship projects (new innovative first-of-a-kind full scale production plants), with billions of euros injected by the sector, all in just 4 years. It will make sure that innovative ideas effectively reach the market. This also resulted in a structuring effect and the development of a new industrial ecosystems with new sectors such as food processing, aquatic/marine, and bio-waste sectors joining bio-based value chains. We have also seen an increased market focus through brand owners and end users, such as packaging, furniture, automotive, personal care, and food & drinks industries. As such, new applications and markets have been created, and crucially, the time to market for innovative bio-based products has been significantly shortened. The BBI JU has in this respect acted as a true catalyst, allowing for the bio-based sector to grow into a €2.3 trillion market in the EU-28, employing 18.5 million people, and counting.

Why a new Vision?

The previous and first Vision was developed in 2012. It’s the foundation of the 2014-2020 BBI JU. Things have evolved since then. More companies and industrial sectors have joined or want to get involved, the circular economy concept has been introduced and is gaining momentum, we need to make sure the Paris Agreement on Climate Change is implemented, and discussions for possible partnerships under Horizon Europe – the next EU research and innovation program – are underway. It will not be business as usual. So the Bio-based Industries Consortium (BIC) and its member companies, with the support of interested parties, decided to update the Vision. In fact, it’s a bit more than an “update”. It’s a new Vision for a Circular Bio-Society by 2050.

How does the Bio-based industry’s Vision 2050 look like?

In 2050, we will live in a Circular Bio-Society. The majority of consumer products on the market will be bio-based and designed under the ‘zero waste’ and ‘circular’ principles. This means petroleum-based feedstock will be the exception, and renewable feedstock will be the rule. This also means that the linear model of production and consumption leading to end-of-life challenges, as we know it today, will be something of the past, as the circular model will be the rule. Phones, shoes, clothes, detergents, cosmetics, packaging materials, and so many more everyday products, will all be made with as much bio-based ingredients as possible, while ensuring that they can be fully recycled and/or re-used, or composted.

In 2050, all sectors and market actors will work together across carbon-neutral value chains that ensure natural resources, energy and waste streams are used efficiently and purposefully, since in a circular Bio-Society, the waste of one is the resource of another. These integrated industrial operations will produce and supply a broad range of biomass as well as combine food and feed production with the manufacturing of various products and materials.

In 2050, consumers will be fully aware of the benefits of the Circular Bio-based Society. They will be the ones driving the demand for new, innovative, healthy, and sustainable bio-solutions.

Europeans will have succeeded in making the EU self-sufficient in key areas such food security and access to natural resources and raw materials, and in addressing fundamental societal challenges such as resource efficiency, sustainable agriculture and forestry, climate change mitigation, and sustainable consumption and production. The EU will have significantly contributed to global sustainability efforts, while being the most competitive bio-based region in the world.

What do you need to enable a Circular Bio-Society?

We need to bring everyone on board. This means the primary and sequential sectors – such as agriculture, horticulture, food processing, beverage, together with the forestry, pulp and paper, fisheries and fish processing, municipalities, and all sectors that have excess primary products, side and residual streams that contain organic (carbon) compound, or produce dedicated crops on available but unused land – have a strategic role to play in co-designing bio-based value chains and their outputs. Equally, brand owners, who face consumers directly, are vital to raise consumer awareness, create demand, and market bio-based solutions.

We also need to work on the full use of biomass feedstock. There is so much more that we can make through optimally integrated operations. It starts with consistent biomass cultivation, supply and delivery to production facilities that operate under the cascading approach. This means the biomass is exploited at its fullest potential, making use of residues and by-products from the primary production process to make food, feed and energy. Bio-based manufacturing then virtually becomes a zero waste and a highly energy efficient process.

Education is another key component to enable the Circular Bio-Society. The Bio-society concept should become an integral part of education institutions’ curriculum, from schools to universities. This is essential to shape mindsets and develop the needed skills and expertise at the workplace.

Equally important is the coherent and complementary roles of European, national, regional and local authorities in creating conducive regulatory frameworks and market incentives. EU strategies for the Bioeconomy and the Circular economy are obvious examples that set EU-wide objectives. National bioeconomy strategies are instrumental in identifying natural resource and industrial capacity, regional expertise and local added value.

Research and Innovation (R&I) must remain high on political agendas to continuously connect the dots and improve processes. To enable the circular Bio-Society, it will be critical to have integrated R&D centres across Europe that facilitate open use of equipment (e.g. piloting facilities) and exchange of expertise, to enable open innovation and accelerate commercialisation.

What do you think will be your main challenges?

Instrumental in this process are Public Private Partnerships, whether at EU or local level. Industry-led ventures are essential to consolidate the relatively new value chains that were created in just a few years. Building on the successes of the BBI JU will ensure industry commitment, applicable results, and continued investments. And of course changing mindsets, whether in public administrations, large corporations or with consumers is challenging. But it’s a challenge that we are happy to undertake. But we need help. Only with a renewed BBI JU will we be able to effectively work towards realising the Circular Bio-Society.

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