INSIGHT: EU bioeconomy strategy has wide implications for chemicals

28 February 2012 16:45  [Source: ICIS news]

By Nigel Davis

LONDON (ICIS)--If Europe’s bio-based industries are to remain competitive they need to bring more products and services from the drawing board onto the market, the European Commission said last week.

Its strategy for the development of the EU’s bioeconomy has wide implications for the ways in which alternatives to traditional hydrocarbons processing develop in Europe and to the ways in which the chemical industry is regulated.

The strategy, unveiled for wider discussion, covers the entire €2,000bn ($2,700bn) bioeconomy from fisheries, forestry and food to energy, taking in chemicals processing along the way.

The most recent data (for 2009) suggest that the bio-based industries in Europe – those processing chemicals, plastics, enzymes and biofuels – have an annual turnover of close to €57bn.

The potential for growth is significant as EU policy continues to focus on greater sustainability and a smaller carbon footprint, and attracts public and private investment.

Bio-themes are apparent in the EU’s research and climate control strategies. The current bioeconomy policy talks of investment in research, innovation and skills; enhanced market development and resource efficiency in the different bioeconomy sectors; and better policy coordination to support the bioeconomy strategy.

“In order to cope with an increasing global population, rapid depletion of many resources, increasing environmental pressures and climate change, Europe needs to radically change its approach to production, consumption, processing, storage, recycling and disposal of biological resources,” the Commission says.

It wants to see backing given to greater resource efficiency and to more environmentally friendly production processes.

The chemical, pulp and paper, and food industries emit significant quantities of greenhouse gases but also store carbon in their products. Making better use of that carbon is one thing. The Commission says that: “The partial replacement of non-renewable products by more sustainable bio-based ones should be pursued.”

The EU’s approach to additional bio-processing could see funds from rural and regional development plans directed towards sustainable bio supply chains and facilities for processing biomass. It sees the development of biorefineries creating sources of income and jobs for the agriculture, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture sectors as they replace traditional petrochemical refinery processes.

The process of replacement is already underway in the petrochemical sector as traditional chemical production sites attract more "bio" investments and, as is the case with Italy’s Polimeri Europa, cracker sites are turned over to producing bio-polymers and other materials.

“Enhancing a productive and sustainable bioeconomy requires more research, rural, marine and industrial infrastructures, knowledge transfer networks and improved supply chains,” the Commission says.

“Among other objectives, this will support integrated and diversified biorefineries, including small-scale local plants."

Tackling the bioeconomy from the market standpoint, the EU is pursuing the development of product standards and sustainability criteria for bio-based products and bio-energy at the European and the international level.

The Commission says such standards are central to the functioning of the EU’s single market, “and the further development of certification and labels that can promote consumer uptake and green public procurement”.

Ultimately, the EU is trying to reconcile food security with the growing demands of a bio-based industrial sector, while continuing to promote its green agenda.

The bioeconomy's cross-cutting nature offers a unique opportunity to comprehensively address interconnected societal challenges such as food security, natural resource scarcity, fossil resource dependence and climate change, while achieving sustainable economic growth,” the Commission says.

Read Doris de Guzman's Green Chemicals blog

By: Nigel Davis
+44 20 8652 3214

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