Author: Laura Devaney
Imagine the future
It is not a matter of ‘if’, but ‘when’ governments, industry and society will transform to a low carbon bioeconomy. Developments across research, policy and markets represent key steps in realising your future biobased morning routine.
In the bioeconomy, dependence on fossil-fuels is reduced, whilst still achieving economic growth. Therefore, renewable biological resources, such as plants and seaweed, are converted into food, feed and bio-based products. The future bio-economy also draws upon ideals of the ‘circular economy’ where the waste of one sector represents a valuable input to another: for example, forestry pulp is used to produce bio-energy. Innovation, knowledge and value addition represent essential building blocks of the future biobased society. “The transition to a sustainable low-carbon bioeconomy is just around the corner for Europe” says Dr. Laura Devaney from Teagasc in Ireland.
It’s 2050 and people managed to transform to a bioeconomy. Waking up, your house feels nice and warm as your home anaerobic digester heats your house using food waste and grass biomass resources. You consider your options for a delicious, healthy and sustainable breakfast, deciding on a protein shake derived from dairy by-products and a seaweed-based supplement for an extra boost of antioxidants. You brush your teeth with your trusty bioplastic toothbrush and shower using a range of biobased cosmetics derived from marine discards. You drive to work in the local biorefinery, a centre that processes waste and other biological materials to create food, bioenergy and many other products. Your car is of course also powered by biofuel, produced from recovered vegetable oil…
The above scenario may seem overly optimistic, but it may be closer than you think. More than 98% of the energy and chemicals used in the year 2000 were derived from fossil-fuel based resources. By 2100, more than 95% of chemicals and polymers can, and must, derive from renewable resources. As a society, we are facing escalating challenges: climate change, biodiversity loss, deforestation, resource scarcity, food security, economic sustainability and growing populations. The need to transition to more sustainable, low carbon ways of living is increasingly recognised.
The bioeconomy concept offers one possible way to address these challenges. It is not a matter of if, but when, society makes this transition. The bioeconomy is gaining traction worldwide, coming to the forefront in key policy documents at both global and EU scales. At the European level, the current bioeconomy is estimated to provide employment for over 22 million people, with a turnover of approximately €2 trillion (EC, 2012).
These lucrative markets producing biofuels, biofertilisers, biochemicals and bioplastics are only beginning to be exploited. The opportunities available are endless and exciting, including the use of agricultural by-product and even pest species for chemical biorefining. We can use side-streams of food production for pharmaceutical, cosmetic and bioenergy creations. The extraction of valuable proteins and bioactives from underutilised marine resources and fish processing discards can also be valorised.
This article was written by Dr. Laura Devaney, Dr. Áine Regan, and Dr. Maeve Henchion who are involved in bioeconomy research projects within Teagasc. Teagasc is the agriculture and food development authority in Ireland. Its mission is to support science-based innovation in the agri-food sector and the broader bioeconomy that will underpin profitability, competitiveness and sustainability. Fill out the ‘get in touch’ section below if you have any questions after reading this article.
O’Connor, K. (2015) Sustainable polymers for packaging, presentation at Food Processing Waste: Maximising Hidden Resources for Sustainable Food Processing Conference, University College Dublin, Dublin, 10th July 2015 [Online] Available at: http://www.ucd.ie/t4cms/KOConnor.pdf (accessed: 14/10/15). Click here.