How Does A Bioeconomy Work?: The Environmental and Economic Benefits of a Bioeconomy

Updated: Oct 27, 2020

What Is A Bioeconomy?

Responding to an increased demand for natural resources, a bioeconomy is an economic system that prioritises the use of renewable biological resources in the development of products and processes, aiming to reduce humanity's reliance on crude oil. Bioeconomies convert waste streams into high-value bioproducts such as ingredients and materials, maximising by-products while decreasing dependence on non-renewable fossil-based resources.

As well as reaping significant environmental benefits, the adoption of a bioeconomy will contribute to the creation of many high-value jobs, while providing resource-efficient solutions and products that tackle a variety of global challenges. Biodegradable plastics, such as those Activatec are working to develop, can reduce pollution as well as reliance on crude oil, while microbes can replace chemicals in the production of cosmetics and medicines. Moreover, more sustainable agriculture practices can lead to the production of cheaper food, helping solve issues of food supply for the global population.

A bioeconomy, therefore, prioritises clean growth through the use of low-carbon alternatives across all industrial sectors, simultaneously providing substantial benefits elsewhere.

Testing the purification of bioproducts

Is A Bioeconomy A Circular Economy?

Bioeconomies share similar goals with circular economies to such an extent that the term 'circular bioeconomy' has been proposed to refer to the intersection between the two. Both economic systems prioritise the following significant aims:

  1. The improvement of resource efficiency and eco-efficiency

  2. The maintenance of a low greenhouse gas footprint

  3. The reduction of demand for non-renewable fossil-based carbon

  4. The valorisation of waste side-streams

However, there are some subtle differences between these two approaches. While a bioeconomy encompasses the renewable production of biological resources and conversion of waste streams into high-value products to replace fossil-based carbon sources, a circular economy prioritises the maintenance of the value of products, materials and resources for as long as possible, minimising waste production.

Bioeconomies aim to substitute fossil carbon entirely, using renewable bio-based carbon from biomass created in agriculture to ensure fully sustainable use of CO2. The bioeconomy, therefore, removes reliance on finite, fossil-based, resources altogether.

Ultimately, both bioeconomies and circular economies aim to use different but complementary approaches to promote a more sustainable world with a lower carbon footprint.

The Bioeconomy in Action

As the positive environmental implications of a bioeconomy have become increasingly clear, the European bioeconomy has gained momentum. The British bioeconomy alone is valued at around £220 billion, contributing to over five million jobs throughout the UK.

Several high-value advanced bioproducts have been produced within the EU over the last few years. These 'success stories' include:

  • Novamont's Butanediol, used in the production of bio-based plastics and elastic fibres.

  • Repolar Pharmaceuticals Oy develop AbilarⓇ, an ointment used by the NHS to treat hard-to-heal wounds, from refined resin from Norway Spruce and a salve base.

  • Biotrem have created biodegradable tableware from compressed wheat bran, which can be found in a number of restaurants and has been used by private customers and events organisers alike.

  • Desmodur® eco N, developed by Covestro AG using cornstarch feedstock, is a hardener used to protect lightfast polyurethane coatings, plastics and woods.

Activatec's Role In The Bioeconomy

Here at Activatec, we are working with a number of partner companies to develop vital products from renewable and eco-friendly sources, converting waste streams into high-value products.

Approximately 180 million tonnes of whey are produced every year as a by-product from the cheese industry. While whey is usually discarded or used to develop low-value ingredients, Activatec are aiming to use the by-product to make and commercialise Galactooligosaccharides (GOS) and Lactobionic Acids (LBAs). They are important prebiotics and antioxidants, respectively, and are used both in the cosmetics industry and as food supplements, demonstrating Activatec's commitment to converting low-value waste by-products into high-value ingredients ready for the market.

Furthermore, we are working to commercialise Ectoine, a high-value bioproduct used in the cosmetics industry. Ectoine helps resist osmotic stress and is mainly used to treat dryness of the skin and eyes. It is also an effective alternative to oxybenzone, an ingredient of sun creams, which causes the bleaching of coral reefs.

We are also working as part of the DEEP PURPLE project to produce Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs), a group of biodegradable plastics, from wastewater streams (which is being tested by Novamont, the producers of Butanediol). These PHAs can reduce reliance on non-biodegradable plastics, which are harmful to the environment and necessitate large landfill sites. Producing materials from these wastewater streams requires significantly less energy than creating synthetic and artificial ingredients through other means, lowering the emission of harmful greenhouse gases while reducing the number of by-products that go to waste.

Involving processes that are closer to carbon neutrality than those used in the development of non-bio-based counterparts, the manufacturing of bioproducts helps maintain an environmentally sustainable economy.

How Activatec Can Help You

While international investors are increasingly seeing the environmental and economic benefits of a bioeconomy, threats to the production of bioproducts include cheap oil and fossil-based non-renewable alternatives, whose relatively low prices discourage investment in low-carbon sustainable products.

Activatec are specialised in the upscaling of processes in order to maximise by-products and efficiently increase product output, ensuring the economic viability of your sustainable bioproducts. We are therefore aiming to commercialise high-value bioproducts through the scale-up of processes to develop viable alternatives to non-renewable carbon-derived sources and ingredients, thereby contributing to the sustainable circular bioeconomy.

Get in touch for a consultation, and find out how we can maximise your processes and help you develop high-value and viable bioproducts ready for the market.

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