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Current themes of Luke's EU policy support – Circular economy, bio-based fertilizers and bioenergy

Blog post
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29.11.2022
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Mika Mustonen
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Tuula Jyske
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Johanna Kohl
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Jutta Kauppi

The unstable economic and security situation in Europe is also influencing the prospects and future priorities of research. The COVID-19 pandemic and the recent changes in the global geopolitics have drastically increased the importance of security of supply to ensure the functionality of our societies in Europe, especially in terms of raw materials and inputs for energy and food. These challenges also contribute to the fact that the objectives of the European Green Deal, and the Circular economy action plan supporting it, are emphasized and the speed of their implementation is expected to accelerate.  

In response to the energy crisis, the EU Commission published the REPowerEU plan of measures in May. The aim is to rapidly reduce the dependence of EU on imports of Russian fossil fuels and to contribute to the green transition, while increasing the resilience of the EU's energy system.

The European Parliament's resolution of March 2022 recognized the need for an urgent action plan to ensure food security inside and outside the EU. One of the key issues in the EU's food security is the current dependence on fertilizer imports from Russia. In addition, the production of fertilizers in the EU has been highly dependent on the availability and price of natural gas. A broader shift to recycled bio-based fertilizers has emerged as one of the solutions to tackle the problem.

Luke is actively providing evidence-based policy support in the EU decision-making networks

Luke's research leadership visited Brussels at the end of September with the theme 'Circular bioeconomy – tools for resilient primary production and security of supply with added value '.

Luke met with officials from the Commission's Directorates-General Research and Innovation, Energy, Agriculture and Rural Development, and Climate Action. Luke's delegation also held discussions with several Finnish MEPs and met with representatives of the key NGOs based in Brussels.

The main highlights of the discussions concerned the development potential of circular economy, the potential for utilizing bioenergy in the energy production mix, and the potential of recycled fertilizers in the transformation of fertilizer production.

According to Luke's ongoing research, recycled fertilizers can substitute mineral nitrogen that requires energy-intensive production and is based on the availability of natural gas. The Lex4Bio  project coordinated by Luke will map regional sources of nutrient-rich biomasses and raise awareness of the need for both nitrogen and phosphorus fertilization and the potential risks in the EU. For example, in Finland, about 90 per cent of the phosphorus fertilization required by plants could currently be covered with various bio-based fertilizers.

The untapped potential of circular economy sparked discussion. Cascade processing, improving logistics, and combining centralized and decentralized processing models were seen as means to boost the value-added use of main and side streams of bioeconomy. This requires, among other things, regional piloting and demonstration, and the RDI support and funding for investments. Especially in the forestry industry there is a need for new ways to comprehensively utilize wood biomass, such as value-added use of lignin and hemicelluloses.

As the main outcome of the visit, we got a better understanding of the channels of influence in the Commission and the Parliament and the ways of interacting that best serve both research and decision-making. The visit underlined the importance of direct interaction: decision-making should be based on the latest research information. Direct discussions with officials, MEPs, and other stakeholders in Brussels (such as Finnish Energy, Association of Finnish Municipalities, Central Union of Agricultural Producers and Forest Owners, Confederation of Finnish Industries) deepened the existing contacts and opened new avenues for research-based influencing.

There is a clear demand for research-based information. The decision-makers also hoped for clear messages from the academia on issues that are important to consider when preparing EU decisions. Examples of these are issues of holistic sustainability in the use of natural resources, regulatory issues, investment policy, and regional perspectives.

Finland's membership in NATO – new perspectives also in the field of natural resources

Finland's and Sweden's membership will expand the NATO geopolitically in the Arctic and the Baltic Sea regions. NATO membership may arise new themes for the natural resources sector, as there is also a strong defense policy dimension to both food and energy security. In the future, security of supply and defense policy issues will also increasingly concern the research carried out in Luke. Many topics are no longer just questions of the natural resources sector, and thus the importance of Luke’s expertise in the Northern Arctic dimension and partnership networks may increase significantly with the new themes.

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