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Circular bioeconomy offers tools for resilient primary production and security of supply with added value

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23.9.2022

The COVID-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. Improving the security of supply, especially in terms of raw materials and inputs for energy and food, needs both immediate actions and longer-term planning.

Production of energy and food has been strongly dependent on availability of fossil energy. It’s time for change. Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) with its European partners provides research-based solutions.

“Our goal is to optimize nutrient cycles, make resource-efficient use of bio-based main and side streams, and underutilized biomasses, and ensure a just transition from linear to circular bioeconomy”, says Johanna Kohl, Programme Director at Luke.

Luke contributes to the EU Circular Economy Action plan by three key messages:

1 Biobased fertilizers can significantly improve food security

Food production is facing unprecedented crisis in a form of climate change and geopolitical tensions. Nutrient-rich side-streams can replace imported mineral fertilizers, increase soil carbon content, and improve self-sufficiency in food production in the EU. The dependence on Russian natural gas on nitrogen production could be partly replaced by recycled fertilizers in the EU.

Possibilities to replace finite mineral P with various bio-based fertilizers (BBF) is analyzed by mapping the regional sources of nutrient-rich biomasses together with knowledge on P fertilization requirements across the EU.

Future activities

  • Security of Supply leap by developing novel processing technologies for converting sidestreams into efficient fertilizers, by developing novel protein and fibre sources and thereby decreasing dependency e.g. on imported soya.
  • Replacing mineral N- and P-fertilizers with bio-based fertilizers while ensuring agronomic efficiency, food and feed safety, human health and minimising environmental losses.
Enhancing circular economy by improving utilization of nutrient-rich side-streams as bio-based fertilizers.

2 Biomasses and their side streams can be valorised to added value products

Achieving the goals of Finland's bioeconomy strategy (50 billion EUR value by 2035) will require considerable investments on RDI for further refining and developing biobased materials. Cross-sectoral production chains and value networks offer opportunity for new business.

What is needed:

  • RDI actions and change of mindset in forest industry: refocusing from bulk production towards refining lignocellulosic biomass into high added value products, services, and business.
  • New upgraded products utilizing all wood-based components to increase our resource efficiency and add value for bioeconomy.
  • Regional activity - Various biomasses are accelerating the green transition by enabling regional production and new, cross-sectoral value networks to improve security of supply.
  • Incentives from both the public and private sides to create new business models and logistical solutions for underutilized raw materials.

Future activities

  • Complex side-streams in use – From low hanging fruits towards utilization of complex biomass/side stream sources — added value, energy, security of supply, and regional livelihood

3 Diversity provides resilience and security to energy systems

Finnish energy production has become an example of versatile and resilient energy system, where bioenergy has a big role in its flexibility and diversity. The more energy system has volatile sources such as wind and solar, the more balancing capacity is needed. Hydropower has been traditionally used for balancing short-term fluctuations.

Bioenergy can even reduce consumption peaks e.g., on winter providing alternatives for houses mainly relying on electric heating. The functionality of bioenergy and its logistics chain in the EU must be maintained in the future. In the short term, decisions may have to be made (e.g., regarding the use of peat/coal) that conflict with long-term goals (e.g., combating climate change) due to the current geopolitical situation. Furthermore, industrial symbiosis provides ways to integrate biogenic carbon capture as green source for carbon.

Future activities

  • RePower by bioenergy and nitrogen economy – Develop decentralized energy systems based on renewable by-products and waste, including biogas.

Luke’s research direction discusses these messages in meetings with relevant Commission DGs as well as several Members of Parliament on a visit to Brussels on 28–29th September.