Bioeconomy is a relatively new field, expanding over a broad range of sectors, such as agriculture, the agrifood industry, fishery, forestry, chemistry, and energy. Before we go deeper into understanding all its branches, it is advisable to look at current definitions of bioeconomy.
“A bioeconomy can be defined as an economy where the basic building blocks for materials, chemicals and energy are derived from renewable biological resources.” (McKinsey, 2013)
The European Commission (EC) first defined its Bioeconomy Strategy in 2012, then updated it in 2018. According to the updated strategy, the two main goals are: sustainability and circular economy. The EC defines bioeconomy as follows:
“The bioeconomy covers all sectors and systems that rely on biological resources (animals, plants, micro-organisms and derived biomass, including organic waste), their functions and principles. It includes and interlinks: land and marine ecosystems and the services they provide; all primary production sectors that use and produce biological resources (agriculture, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture); and all economic and industrial sectors that use biological resources and processes to produce food, feed, biobased products, energy and services. To be successful, the European bioeconomy needs to have sustainability and circularity at its heart. This will drive the renewal of our industries, the modernisation of our primary production systems, the protection of the environment and will enhance biodiversity.” (The Bioeconomy Strategy, European Commission 2018)
To better display these aims, the EC created this infographic below:
Bioeconomy is an alternative to fossil-based production processes. The biobased economy mainly focuses on replacing the use of fossil fuels in combustion and for production of materials with renewable biomass. For this, it is necessary to enhance the volumes of biomass. This means breeding more plants and new varieties of plants, even on wastelands. These breeds should have higher yields (e.g. grasses) and should not compete with food. The aim is also to have better collection and conversion processes: to use all components effectively and optimally. This can for example mean extracting pulp from sugar beets in a more efficient way and using all residue for different aims.
If you are curious about further definitions of bioeconomy, you can read more here.
In the animation below, you can find out more about bioeconomy. Make sure you click the “Subtitles” button to get subtitles in all EU languages:
What is bioeconomy?
Find everyday objects that could be replaced with biobased ones and post a picture of them.
1.2 Bioeconomy in our day-to-day lives
While at first glance, the actualization of bioeconomy might seem like something in the far future, or something that does not depend on us, it is important to understand that it is here and it is happening. As you have probably discovered in the previous section, many everyday products around us can be made from biobased materials and many harmful industrial processes can be substituted with sustainable and environmentally friendly industrial processes. Here are a few examples:
Children’s toys can be made of bamboo and wood. Did you know that bamboo grows quickly and can be harvested annually without decay of the soil? Bamboo can grow on land that is not suitable for agriculture or forestry, therefore making it an ideal candidate for a substitute for plastic. What is more, if children lose their bamboo toys on the beach, they will biodegrade in a shorter time than plastic, while causing less harm to the environment! (World Bamboo Resources, 2005)
Leather armchairs are usually tinted with heavy metal salts. This can be exchanged for olive leaves! The leaves of the olive tree contain secondary compounds which the plants use as a pest defence. This forms the basis for a biodegradable tanning agent. This method protects the environment and makes the leather friendly to sensitive skin. Tonnes of olive leaves fall every year at harvest time in the Mediterranean, usually burned as green waste. Now, there is a newly found use for them!
Tables can be created from residues of coffee! The European Coffee Federation has found that Europeans consume 2.5 million tonnes of coffee per year. And while coffee is a luxury product and has a high value, we only use very little of the substance. Why not take the residue and create something truly useful, such as a table?
Cosmetic products, such as face creams can be made using the power of yeast cells to form a protective layer on our skin. Yeast extracts help in healing wounds. Researchers also observed that, as a response to stress factors such as ultraviolet light or heat, yeast cells start to produce a set of protective molecules. Some of these natural agents have skin-firming properties, making them interesting to use as components in face and body creams.
Bricks can be manufactured by bacteria! Annually 800 million tonnes of CO2 is released in the atmosphere because of the production of bricks. Now there is a process to get bacteria to “grow” durable cement! First, sand is packed into rectangular moulds, then the bacteria wrap themselves around the grains of sand. Calcium carbonate crystals begin to form and grow until the bricks are ready to be used. Why not live in a house grown by bacteria?
What are biobased products?
Biobased products, as defined by the European Commission, are products “wholly or partly derived from materials of biological origin”, excepting food and feed. Usually, enzymes are used to create chemical building blocks, detergents, pulp and paper, textiles, etc. “By using fermentation and bio-catalysis instead of traditional chemical synthesis, higher process efficiency can be obtained, resulting in a decrease in energy and water consumption, and a reduction of toxic waste.” This process also helps reduce CO2 emission, as the raw materials are plants (European Commission about biobased products).
Most of the above information has been taken from this collection, created by BioStep. If you are curious, read the document and watch the video below to find out about more about everyday biobased products and where to find them:
You can find another collection of 57 biobased products here and some advice as to how to recognise them here.
1.3 Biobased products and education
Biobased products have the power to change even the way we teach! Here are some examples that could be implemented today, in your school as well:
Enzymes are good for many things, among these are creating more durable school uniforms! As the enzymes are added during the textile bleaching and dying process, the whole industrial process saves water and energy.
Laundry detergents also use enzymes. The use of enzymes in the washing and cleaning process means that less energy is required to achieve the same result. Why not create an environmentally friendly laundry detergent with your students? You only need four simple ingredients and the classroom activity is ready! Try this activity with your class and tell us your and your students’ experiences.
The main reason why raising awareness about biobased products and processes is important, is that your students will also grow up to be or already are consumers. And, when it comes to deciding which product they use, it is important to make well-informed and environmentally sustainable choices. As your students are the workforce of the future, knowing about opportunities in the field of bioeconomy is vital. Regions, companies and educational institutes are all searching for motivated and skilled youth to work in the bioeconomy sector. We deal with the connection to the job sector in detail in the third module of this course.
Bioeconomy in our day-to-day lives
Doing the laundry with the help of enzymes. Did you try creating your own laundry detergent with your students? What were your experiences? If you did not have time to implement this activity with your students, can you think of another bioeconomy related activity that could be tried out in the classroom?
1.4 The branches of bioeconomy
The bioeconomy value chain involves many stops along the way, but it starts with biomass. As plants grow, they photosynthesize, converting solar energy, CO2, and water into biomass, for example in the form of sugars. The resulting biomass can have many different shapes and sizes: trees and plants (including vegetables and fruits), but also microalgae and seaweed.
The biomass is harvested and separated into different products, such as oils, sugars, flour and starch in the biorefinery. The rest will be used as fertilizer. In the food factory, the oils, sugars, flour and starches are made into food (for humans) and feed (for animals).
Waste from human food consumption is processed into biodiesel and other energy sources. Animal waste (manure) is processed into fertilizer for the agricultural industry.
In the animal-based biorefinery, animal-based sources are produced for food, such as milk, meat and leather. In the non-food factory, biomass is converted into different components: for example, building blocks for green chemicals, materials, fuels and energy.
In the end-product factories, biobased products are produced. Can you remember any of them?
Many products, such as chemicals, plastics, paper and textiles are recycled. All product streams not suitable to be recycled are burned to supply us with heat and electricity.
Two additional productions streams are thermal conversion factories and mechanical wood processing. Thermal conversion factories process biomass to provide input for the non-food factories. Here they produce heat, electricity and synthetic natural gas, for example. Mechanical wood processing produces timber and other massive wood products, used in construction.
If you would like to discover more about the process, check out this online presentation that will also help you visually imagine the bioeconomy value chain:
In the end-product factories, biobased products are produced. Can you remember any of them?
What is the circular economy?
The aim of the circular economy is to close material loops. This results in minimising waste and gaining as much out of all resources as possible. The European Commission’s Circular Economy Policy Package “aims to close material loops through the recycling and reuse of products, effectively reducing virgin raw material use and associated environmental pressures” (European Environmental Agency).
As you can see from the previous section, the value chain of bioeconomy aims to have as little waste after each production process, as possible. While bioeconomy and the circular economy are not the same, they are conceptually connected. The circular economy aims to achieve the narrowing and closing of material loops by creating long-lasting products and repairing, reusing, refurbishing and recycling them. This is in contrast with a linear economy, in which production is based on a more “take, make, dispose” approach. The bio-based economy can support and uptake aspects of the circular economy. This is visible for example in its goal to use biomass as efficiently as possible.
The circular economy aims to “close the circle” of production and to maximise the efficiency of material flows. Bioeconomy uses biological resources. Both can help to mitigate climate change. Here’s a factsheet developed by the BLOOM project, summarising useful information about all the above:
The branches of bioeconomy
Do you know which branches of bioeconomy the country where you teach is involved in?
1.5 Societal implications of bioeconomy
You may have been wondering why the ongoing implementation of bioeconomy is important.
Climate change is one of the main reasons why bioeconomy receives attention. The biobased economy is able to mitigate climate change with multiple techniques, from re-using waste to creating bio-based building materials. It aims to maximise the efficiency of material processes, especially that of the carbon usage. Below you can read about the biggest environmental challenges and what bioeconomy may offer as a solution to them.
According to this article, Greenpeace found that nearly a fifth of the EU’s budget – 27.5 billion EUR – goes to supporting livestock, while livestock is one of the biggest contributors to CO2 emission. Additionally, it is becoming more and more evident that the world’s existing cropland could feed an extra 3 billion people, if it was used more efficiently (Guardian, 2014). Bioeconomy aims for balance between plant and animal farming. To grow biomass, manure is needed, therefore both usages of croplands are important.
Only in the UK, people buy 38 million clothing items each week, while 11 million of them go to landfill (Guardian, 2019). The fast fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters in the world. Currently only 1% of textiles is recycled. It is one of the challenges of bioeconomy to process textile better.
By 2050, there will be more plastics in the ocean, than fish (The Independent, 2016). If interested, you can find more information about plastic pollution in this article. Bioeconomy offers different bio-based solutions to replace plastic.
In this animation, created by Mona Chalabi, you can watch how the most endangered species fit in a subway car.
You may be asking now: what can I do? It is of course important for individuals to act and take a stand, even to consciously change their lifestyle. It is vital for teachers around the globe to raise awareness among students about these issues. But bioeconomy can bring about a universal, systematic change. Let’s see how.
Apart from a positive climate impact, the social impact of bioeconomy is similarly far-reaching. If successfully implemented, bioeconomy will create new markets, green the existing economy, create new jobs and have an impact on GDP/GNI. It will lower food prices and increase food security. Furthermore, it will contribute to a better state of health. In this report, BioStep collected possible indicators of societal changes brought about by bioeconomy. Read on for a more detailed overview!
Societal implications of bioeconomy
What do you think of the argument about individual versus universal responsibility regarding climate change? Do you think that people should change their lifestyles or that governments and big businesses should react to climate change with policy implementations?
Fonte: MOOC: Boosting Bioeconomy Knowledge in Schools
2.7 The learning scenario, part I
In the previous module, you became familiar with the BLOOM learning scenario template. This learning scenario has eight sections. These are:
Aim of the lesson
During each module, you will be filling in some sections of this learning scenario. The objective of this weekly activity is that at the end of the course you are able to share with your peers a final and complete learning scenario to be reviewed by other teachers.
For this module, you only need to complete the first five sections: title, author, the table of summary, license and the aim of the lesson.
Once you have completed these first sections, save the document and keep on working on it during the following modules. Good luck!