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Europe Targets 50 Bio-Based Technologies

May 18, 2021
Report highlights attainable and innovative solutions to emerging challenges

[pullquote]A study has identified the top 50 technologies that could drive bio-based innovations in the European Union (EU) forward by 2030.

Called Life and Biological Sciences and Technologies as Engines for Bio-based Innovation and funded by the European Commission, the 266-page study looks at four fields: industrial biotechnology, environmental, plant and marine. The report consists of a broad review of existing literature, analysis of first-hand patent data, an EU-wide online survey, stakeholder consultations and three expert workshops.

Dr. Sven Wydra, coordinator of the project and senior researcher at the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI, Munich, Germany, notes the wide impact possible from investing in life and biological sciences and technologies. “These bio-based innovations have a high potential to improve EU citizens’ quality of life and the environment by making industrial production more resource efficient and sustainable, reducing emission of greenhouse gases, recycling plastic and other waste, replacing fossil-based resources with bio-based ones, and providing strategies against emerging diseases,” he explains.

Decision-makers in the EU and member states as well as regional policy makers, companies, associations, and research institutions are encouraged to develop tailor-made strategies to address “these great societal challenges.”

Each technology includes a description of the innovation needed, an explanation of its importance, and the priority issues it faces.

For example, multi-enzyme bio-catalysis promises one-pot synthesis of complex products. The priority issue identified is the financing needed to encourage more systematic and rational approaches to academic/industrial cooperation.

Another is process modeling. Dynamic, advanced process models can adapt control strategy in real time using feedback loops and, so, contribute to more-consistent product quality and better decision-making by process operators. The study highlights cooperation between industry and academia as a priority issue, citing the need for industry to provide bio-production relevant data to generate accurate models.

Biorefineries adapted to new feedstocks also make the list — in particular, their development and optimization to handle what the study describes as underexploited, non-food biomass feedstocks such as grass, algae and organic municipal waste. Priorities include substantial R&D, financing for pilot and demonstration facilities and cross-sector cooperation between feedstock-providing and -converting industries.

The study also surveyed novel feedstocks, and using side and waste streams. While it notes there are many valuable carbon-containing components in both municipal and bio-waste, their production, separation and purification remain problematic. Both categories require appropriate regulations to support enhanced value for waste, together with investment in infrastructure and logistics.

Microbial bioconversion of CO2-based chemicals to industrially relevant ones such as carbon monoxide, methane, and various organic acids and alcohols is another innovation examined. Here, the authors call for interdisciplinary and cross-sector cooperation of CO2-emitting industries with specialists in industrial biotechnology, electrolysis and green hydrogen production.

The study also reviews dedicated bio-based chemicals, i.e., those that don’t have a direct fossil-based equivalent and are produced by a synthetic route. It cites succinic acid and itaconic acid as examples of promising bio-based building blocks and platform chemicals obtained by fermentation. These, say the study, need creation of market opportunities via regulations and standards.

“We must make every possible joint effort to tackle climate change and reduce our environmental footprint. Therefore, we need to make optimal use of the benefits of life and biological sciences and technologies and promote a strategic enabling approach. This study is a very good starting point for developing such a strategy,” says Martijn Vis, senior consultant at BTG Biomass Technology Group, Enschede, The Netherlands, who led the study’s policy analysis.

“The EU-27 is among the world leaders in innovations for sustainability shifts and a circular and bio-based economy, and shows a strong research base for bio-based innovations in general. At the same time, market conditions still need to be improved to guarantee a successful uptake of bio-based products as valuable alternatives of the fossil-based ones,” he adds.

Download the full report, including factsheets outlining the top 50 innovations.

Seán Ottewell is Chemical Processing's editor at large. You can email him at [email protected].

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