Bioeconomy and Biobusiness: The European Policy Perspective

This text will be presented during Bioeconomy Highlithed Session at ECB2016 on July 5th.

Introduction – Bioeconomy in Europe

The policy framework for the European Commission is set by President Juncker’s Political Guidelines, in particular, the priority of providing „A New Boost for Jobs, Growth and Investment”, on creating „A Connected Digital Single Market”, on developing „A Resilient Energy Union with a Forward-Looking Climate Change Policy” and „A Deeper and Fairer Internal Market with a Strengthened Industrial Base”. This framework is further defined by the main policy areas referred to in EU Bioeconomy Strategy (adopted by the European Commission in February 2012), the EU Common Agricultural Policy, the EU Integrated Maritime Policy and the EU Common Fisheries Policy. These are further complemented by the EU environmental, industrial, health, food safety, forestry, social, energy and regional development policies and initiatives.

In particular, the 2012 EU Bioeconomy Strategy set out 3 main aims:

  1. Increasing investment in research and innovation. This has been implemented through the Horizon 2020 (2014 – 2020) programme with significant amount of €3.8 billion allocated to Bioeconomy Societal Challenge (compared to €1.9 billion allocated to programme Food, Agriculture and Biotechnologies under previous Seventh Framework Programme). Other elements are increasing multi-disciplinarily & cross-sectorial R&I, and ensuring links with European Structural and Investment Funds with their Smart Specialisation Strategies,
  2. Ensuring policy interaction and stakeholder engagement. This has been implemented by support to the development of regional and national bioeconomy strategies (adopted in several European countries and regions e.g. Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, Flanders (Belgium), Spain etc. and under development in several other regions), creation of the EU Bioeconomy Panel and Bioeconomy Observatory and structured International cooperation on the EU level. The stakeholder engagement will be of key importance for reviewing the EU Bioeconomy Strategy, which is underway from early 2016 until late 2017.
  3. Enhancement of markets and competitiveness of EU bioeconomy. This has been implemented primarily by the establishment of the Bio-based Industry Joint Technological Initiative, funded jointly by the European Commission and industry (total budget €3.7 billion) and operational since 2014.

This European Commission aims at bringing Research and Innovation at the heart of major primary sectors – such as agriculture, forestry and fisheries -, to face the new challenges ahead, taking advantage of new potential in the biological, ecological, and technical and information technology domains.

In respect to Bioeconomy, the overall objective is to help set Europe on a solid basis to sustain food security, the natural resource base and sustainable growth path, adapting and innovating to find resilient and efficient alternatives to our present-day fossil-based economy. The challenge consists of demonstrating and transferring effective solutions to major challenges affecting the Bioeconomy on land and sea, across the agri-food chain from soil to society. European research and innovation will need to unlock the potentials of available bio-resources in the different bioeconomy and blue-economy sectors in a sustainable and socially responsible way.

Horizon 2020 Challenge 2 Bioeconomy

The Horizon 2020 Work Programme area 2: „Food security, sustainable agriculture and forestry, marine and maritime and inland water research and the bioeconomy” funds research and innovation in this area. Presently, a major part of the biannual 2016 – 2017 call (combined budget ca. 771 million euro) is still open for applications to tackle major societal challenges:

  • Ensuring food and nutritional security, together with resource efficiency, and facing climate change. According to the FAO, to meet food demand to feed a global population projected for over 9 billion by the year 2050, a 60% increase in global agricultural production is necessary relative to 2005. And this challenge has to be met in the context of increasing resource scarcities while minimizing food safety risks and adapting to/mitigating climate change. It will be crucial to develop win-win solutions that bring together the primary sector and the food industry, considering nutrition, health, water and energy efficiency, zero waste and environmental sustainability in a holistic way.
  • Sustainably exploiting the potential of the oceans, which cover 70% of the earth’s surface and host 50% of known species. Over 90% of the ocean habitat is in the deep sea and less than 10% of this has been explored. Unlocking the potential of seas and oceans across the wide range of marine and maritime industries requires an integrated approach to ensure a responsible management of resources and to maximise synergies between activities and boost growth and employment in coastal areas.
  • Promoting dynamic territorial development, through the mobilisation of rural and coastal economies. Rural or semi-rural areas represent about 88% of EU territory and account for 46% of the Gross Value Added and 55% of jobs. Setting the right framework conditions and developing key skills will be critical to foster innovation in rural areas, helping them generating economic activities and coping with the various dimensions of sustainability.
  • Boosting investment, employment and economic growth in the European Union. The various sectors accounted under the bioeconomy are already worth EUR 2 trillion in annual turnover and account for more than 22 million jobs, and their potential is still greater. For example, it has been estimated that the volume growth of EU bio-based chemical products could be over 3% per year up to 2020, resulting in a market worth EUR 40 billion and 90,000 new jobs. Furthermore, the food industry is the largest industrial sector in the EU and there is still further potential to grow, with new businesses and industries emerging in both traditional and novel non-food sectors.

Bio-based innovation, bio-based industries and bioproducts

The 2012 European Bioeconomy Strategy identified Bio-based industries as key drivers in the transition from a fossil-based to a bio-based society, with research and innovation as the motor. Even as a nascent sector, their annual turnover is about 57 billion € and offer 300,000 direct and indirect jobs. They growth and projections are enormous. Bio-based products will provide new markets to biomass producers, strengthening also rural economies and generating high-skilled jobs. For instance, bioplastics are growing at an annual rate of about 20% and are being used in an increasing number of markets, ranging from agriculture, automotive and packaging to toys and textiles.

Bio-based Industries can create a large number of jobs, many of which will be in rural areas. Furthermore, they limit greenhouse gas emissions and reduce our dependency on imported oil. The huge potential of bio-based industries is attracting investments all around the world. Almost 1800 biorefineries are expected to be commissioned globally until 2022. Just as an example, ca. $1.4 billion of public funding was allocated to the development of advanced biofuels in the US in 2011. Several countries around the globe have adopted the bioeconomy strategies or related policies (e.g. US, Canada, South Africa, Australia, Brazil).


The era of industrial growth supported by an ever expanding and non-sustainable use of fossil resources is rapidly coming to an end. The new wave of industrialisation comes from bio-based industries that produce and use sustainable bio-based resources at competitive prices and convert them into innovative, sustainable and viable industrial products. Championing this paradigm shift, from fossil to bio, will be critical in maintaining and reinforcing the EU industrial base and will contribute to bringing industry’s weight in the EU’s GDP back to 20% by 2020, from less than 16% today.

The solutions for this challenge are supported in the Horizon 2020 programme. In the currently open 2016-17 calls two main aspects of the bio-based innovation are covered. Firstly, it encompasses the production, mobilisation and use of biomass including new business and service models, to sustainably secure raw material supply for a wide range of industrial products taking into account potential trade-offs of competing land-uses. Secondly, it considers stakeholders engagement and demand-side measures supporting market development of bio-based products.

The Bio-based Industries Joint Technological Initiative (BBI JTI) represents a major investment in this area. While it covers the whole value chain from the development of innovative feedstock, its conversion in next generation bio-refineries, and supporting markets for bio-based products; its stronger emphasis is placed on development and demonstration of next generation bio-refineries. In this sense, the content of the current Horizon 2020 call, which is primarily on the upstream (biomass supply) and downstream (market development of bio-based products), complements the activities of the Bio-based industries JTI.

It should be stressed that wherever possible, Horizon 2020 supports synergies, including possibilities for funding, with relevant national / regional research and innovation programmes and/or cumulative funding with European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) in connection with research & innovation smart specialisation strategies (RIS3). Just as an example, more than 10 of the 16 Polish regions identified aspects of Bioeconomy in their smart specialisation strategies, as included in the present Regional Operational Programmes.

Author: Tomasz Calikowski, Research Policy Officer

Affiliation: European Commission,  DG Research and Innovation, Unit F2 ‚Biobased Products and Processing’

This perspective will be presented during Bioeconomy and Biobusiness Session on ECB2016:


Following the Bioeconomy and Biobusiness Session there will be presentations of Bioeconomy Open Space & Exhibition Project: