BIOTRANSFORM project: Info Day and first newsletter published
The group of 19 participants consisted of representatives from policy makers, academia, SMEs and industry, investors, and innovation networks from NRW. Those present shared a common interest in the bioeconomy but brought different motivations to the table.
Sabine Blankenship from the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Industry, Climate Action and Energy of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia kindly opened the event. She stressed the importance of bioeconomy for the region and pointed out the latest funding opportunities within the ZukunftBIO.NRW funding framework. Following her inspiring words, Tatjana Schwabe-Marković and Peter Stoffels from CLIB presented the BIOTRANSFORM project and as well as the special features of the model region NRW within the project consortium. CLIB focuses on the transition of the chemical industry in NRW and the question of how renewable raw materials can be provided for this important industry in the future.
In the co-creation part of the workshop, we started by collecting best practice examples of successful transitions in NRW and beyond, as well as unused potentials for future transformation developments. Impressively, this collection grew very quickly and featured the fermentative production of several chemical building blocks, the production of biobased plastics, the use of fungi to produce food from waste streams, or the use of aquaponics to create complex nutritional food production systems. Besides these examples, the collection highlighted NRW as a strong region which combines excellent industry and research facilities, as well es technology centres, all of which are connected by transport infrastructure. Most existing project funding lines and especially the government’s commitment for the bioeconomy were regarded as positive. Future potential for development was seen in as yet unused biogenic residue streams as well as the increased integration with the agricultural sector, which is also strong in the state.
The main focus of the workshop was to identify existing barriers to a successful transformation towards a circular bioeconomy. The participants collected ideas and prioritised the four main barriers: competitiveness on price with existing technologies and economy of scale, regulatory issues, the diverse aims of transformational processes towards a circular bioeconomy, and lack of (scale-up) infrastructure.
The participants then collected potential solutions and discussed their possible applications.
There was an agreement that new, biobased products have to be competitive, also on price – which means competition with traditional technologies, optimised for decades, as well as subsidised sectors. To create a level playing field, solutions like a stronger pricing of external factors, tax breaks, and preferred public procurement for biobased alternatives were mentioned. It was pointed out that consumers play an essential role and should be informed of the advantages of biobased products to promote a willingness to pay for sustainable alternatives. Participants also mentioned the difficulty of start-ups to obtain long term financial support to achieve market penetration. A successful market entry obviously also requires strong products and market demand, both of which are prerequisites to funding.
Regulation can often be a barrier to the introduction of new technologies. Since bioeconomy is a cross-sector endeavour, the multitude of regulations by different department and agencies can be difficult to navigate. Additionally, these are not always harmonised. New projects can benefit from being planned and measured with existing regulations in mind to optimise chances for success.
Participants raised the issue of a related barrier: a lack of coordination between existing bioeconomy policy support and regulation. Also, the trade-offs between the diverse objectives as to the use of the bioeconomy or renewable feedstocks are not yet defined. This was identified as a political problem which could be solved with a consolidated strategy. Bearing in mind the diverse stakeholders however, merging existing strategies does not seem like a practicable mid-term solution. However, bodies like the Federal or Regional Bioeconomy Councils could help to analyse, define, and monitor strategies and their implementation.
The fourth barrier discussed was the lack of scale-up potential in NRW and beyond. This issue had a strong consensus of all participants. Connected to the first barrier, stronger investments would be needed to increase scale-up capacities in the bioeconomy. The participants called for public investment but understood that limitations to state-aid are limiting the support for activities closer to the market. On the other hand, private investments often require a proof of economic viability of the alternative processes and products, proof which requires the successful scale-up of a process. While there are best-practice examples in other countries, no easy solution seems to present itself.
This co-creation workshop has given the CLIB team a lot of valuable input, which we can use to guide our work in the BIOTRANSFORM project. We will carefully review the bioeconomy potentials, barriers, and solutions to include them in our case study of how to support the defossilisation of the chemical industry in the state, and to improve the valorisation of biogenic side- and waste streams. We thank all participants and will continue to update them, and the CLIB network, on our progress. Additional stakeholders interested in giving input are invited to take part in the interview online here.