By the time we reach the kitchen counter, without thinking about it we’ve used many everyday items that are made using fossil-based products and processes.
These all have a negative impact on nature, on the environment and on ourselves: from our plastic bottle of shampoo to the fabric in our clothes, or even the flooring under our feet.
In fact, research suggests about 96% of all manufactured goods rely on input from the chemical industry.
Using ‘bio-based’ renewable chemicals and materials, sourced from plants or animals, could be greener and more sustainable than using fossil-based ones.
The EU is a global leader when it comes to renewables: firms are already producing bio-based construction materials, furniture, packages, textiles, chemicals, resins, plastics and pharmaceuticals in diverse industrial plants and bio-refineries across Europe.
These facilities help make innovative, high value-added products that contribute to the transition to more sustainable European manufacturing. The JRC supports EU policies by building knowledge and monitoring the impacts of bio-based activities so that they can grow sustainably.
Building knowledge to support a sustainable bioeconomy
Through the European Bioeconomy Strategy and action plan, the EU strives to unlock the full potential of the bio-based sectors to boost Europe’s competitiveness and provide jobs, while protecting biodiversity and enhancing the multiple services ecosystems provide.
The Strategy aims to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate. However, policymakers need reliable data to take well-informed actions that address trade-offs.
The JRC has, since 2017, managed the European Commission’s Knowledge Centre for Bioeconomy. It pulls together knowledge and expertise from different sources, to assess the status, progress and impact of the bioeconomy.
In recent months, JRC scientists, together with experts from industry and government, have taken major steps forward in enhancing data on bio-based industries and making it accessible to everyone involved in supporting or developing the bioeconomy. This includes:
- A data-digging exercise to unearth the EU's bio-based chemical sector: this work establishes indicators that can be used to better analyse the economic performance and sustainability of bio-based chemical activities and products;
- A report on value chains, comparing bio-based chemicals, plastics and pharmaceuticals to those derived from fossil-based technologies. This information can be fed into modelling tools to simulate different development pathways for new bio-based innovations;
- A bio-refineries dashboard where anyone can explore the industrial landscape of bio-based substances and material products in the EU, accompanied by a report.
The dashboard shows the distribution of chemical- and material-driven biorefineries in Europe.
These research outcomes provide experts, policymakers and industry with useful information to inform their approach to the bioeconomy. For example, the data-digging exercise identifies gaps where data quality can be improved.
The value chains report shows which factors are likely to have the most impact on production cost in Europe, so that production processes can be optimised. And the dashboard shows that production is mainly concentrated in North-western regions of continental Europe, which can be useful in understanding where the industry is most developed and where support could be focused.
Building on these outcomes, experts continue working on consolidated databases, analyses and case studies. They are also applying the ‘foresight’ approach: considering trends in dietary patterns, food waste and enhanced usage of biomass for bio-industrial purposes, to explore the impact these factors could have on possible future scenarios, up to 2030 and 2050.
The work related to the biorefineries contributes to activities of the recently created biorefinery working group of the International Bioeconomy Forum.
Shifting to bio-based products and processes means switching to using continuously renewable resources and processing methods, including biological ones, in a sustainable way. This will improve resource efficiency and reduce Europe's dependency on oil, coal and gas and help meet its ambitious climate targets.
The shift will help accelerate the transition to a green and circular economy.
Bio-based production is an emerging sector of the bioeconomy that is expected to grow rapidly. It will help create new markets and jobs, especially in rural and coastal areas. Research is critical to enable, establish and deploy this sector more widely.
The Knowledge Centre for Bioeconomy supports policymaking by:
- identifying, filtering and structuring relevant information and making it accessible;
- bringing together researchers, policymakers and other experts in the field;
- analysing, curating available evidence and communicating it in a transparent, tailored and concise manner.