What is the bioeconomy?

The bioeconomy refers to all economic activity that starts with the production of renewable biological resources and their conversion into food, feed, bio-based products and bioenergy. The bioeconomy interconnects supply chains in agriculture, forestry, fisheries, food, pulp and paper, as well as parts of the chemical, biotechnological and energy industries. The bioeconomy is based on the principles of biorefineries that use biomass, by- and co-products and waste instead of fossil resources as their raw material. In the bioeconomy, land use and food security are optimized through a sustainable, resource-efficient and largely waste-free utilisation of Europe’s renewable raw materials, so contributing to a circular economy.

The bioeconomy can contribute towards the conversion of fossil-based European industries to low carbon, resource efficient and sustainable ones. Estimates conclude that a shift to biological raw materials and biological processing methods could save up to 2.5 billion tons of CO2 equivalent per year by 2030, increasing markets for bio-based raw materials and new consumer products several-fold (https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/horizon2020/en/area/bio-based-industries). In the UK, bioeconomic activity is currently estimated to be worth £36 billion direct contribution and £150 billion GVA (http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/documents/1510-bioeconomy-facts-and-figures).

Bio-based materials are those derived from biomass, which can have undergone physical, chemical or biological treatment(s). A bio-based product is a product wholly or partly derived from biomass, and can be an intermediate, material, semi-finished or final product. A bio-based product is characterised by its bio-based carbon content or bio-based content. Currently, bio-based materials are typically produced in small scale or individual facilities, prior to widespread adoption and process optimisation enabling larger scale manufacturing.

The role of standards in developing the market for bio-based products

The European Commission’s Lead Market Initiative identified bio-based products as one of the priority areas in which to focus investments and innovation. The lack of relevant standards within the area of bio-based products had been seen as a barrier to further adoption. Without clear standardization and traceable and consistent labelling, the acceptance and commercialization of bio-based products could be difficult. Standards are setting out a clear framework for a European priority area, whilst importantly not inhibiting innovation within the area.