Definition Of Bioeconomic Analysis Essay

1. Introduction

The transition from a fossil fuel-dependent development paradigm towards a development path that takes advantage of bio-based resources and new innovations within biochemistry and the life sciences is prompting the formulation of new strategies and policies. With increased research and innovations on bio-based energy forms, chemicals and materials, the use of the terms bioeconomy (BE) and bio-based economy (BBE) has evolved. Interestingly, there is a slight difference between the meanings of these two terms and also in how they are used, although this difference is neither obvious nor outspoken, which is further explained in this article. The use of the two terms in this article will, as often as possible, be used stringently, but when mentioned as a general concept, the term bioeconomy also comprises the bio-based economy.

Until now, many countries have published separate strategies and policies related to biotechnology and bio-based products and industries, but more and more countries are developing strategies that collect all these separate topics under the conceptual umbrella of the BE. A shift towards a larger and more advanced bioeconomy will imply effects on many aspects of the economy, society in general, and the environment. With a strategy for a BE, a nation declares its intentions in a more coordinated way, sometimes including the aspects of protecting biodiversity, food quality and quantity, preservation of rare biotopes, and climate change mitigation. The fact that some of the world’s largest countries and economies have adopted national strategies and visions for such a bioeconomy is relevant for all actors in research and economic arenas (see for example [1,2,3]).

The onset of publications of national bioeconomy strategies and policies can be, at least partly, attributed to the publication of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) document “The Bioeconomy to 2030: Designing a Policy Agenda” [1], which states that progress in biological sciences can now offer solutions for many health and resource-related issues that the world is facing. These technologies can provide a motor for increased sustainability in economies but defining a policy agenda is required to implement the research findings and innovations that are the basis of a BE. The OECD strongly suggests that both the public and the private sectors must take active roles in designing such an agenda in order to maximize the full potential of the bioeconomy.

The aim of this article is to give a comparative analysis of a sample of national strategies and policies on the BE and BBE. The countries and regions selected are the EU, USA, Canada, Germany, Finland, Sweden and Australia. However, in order to set a frame for these strategies, the overview starts with a description of the OECD agenda on the bioeconomy. The selected countries are major actors for developing a BE and/or they are relatively rich in bio-based resources or potentials. The USA, Canada, Finland and Sweden have large forest areas, which is an important factor for developing a BE, and they also have research and innovation in the field of bio-refining and bio-based industries. Germany has recently declared its intention of shutting down all its nuclear power plants, which provides a major driver for renewable energy and developing the bioeconomy. Australia faces the challenge of water scarcity, climate impacts on its fragile environment, and increasing renewable energy. Both Germany and Australia have significant potentials for the bioeconomy. The EU is a key player in the BBE field having declared a strong emphasis on the “knowledge-based bio-economy” or KBBE, encompassing research, development, and demonstration and other types of projects in fields such as agriculture, bioenergy, new materials, and biorefineries.

2. Methodology

This article is a study of how national (and regional) strategies and policies around the BBE and BE are formulated. The analysis covers only governmental, official documents or documents that are treated, in the country itself and/or internationally, as primary documents. Examples of non-governmental documents that are referred to as national strategies or policies are those from Canada and Australia. There are many non-governmental strategies and agendas published, but since these are not within the scope of this project, they are not included in the comparison. The methods used in this research include a systematic search for, and identification of, relevant documents and background information and an analysis based on a set of parameters. This overview is presented in an evaluation matrix, shown in Table 1. Subsequently, descriptions of each document are presented, thus providing more detailed insights. Finally, the focus and approaches of the documents are compared and discussed and some conclusions are drawn.

The countries selected in this study are the USA, Canada, Germany, Sweden, Australia and Finland. In addition, the EU has been included, as well as the bioeconomy report from the OECD. The inclusion of the OECD document [1] was motivated by frequent referral to it in the policies and strategies of the aforementioned countries. Other countries relevant to the global bioeconomy but not included in this study are, for example, Russia, which launched an innovation strategy in 2010 entitled “Innovative Russia 2020” [4]; China is pursuing a strong position in the bioeconomy with a special focus on biochemistry and life sciences [5,6]; Malaysia has a vision for the creation of a bioeconomy [7], as well as a “National Biomass Strategy to 2020” [8]; and Brazil issued in 2007 a decree including an annex detailing the development of its bioeconomy [9]. Russia, China, Malaysia and Brazil are not included in this study as their official national documents on the bioeconomy are not well developed but, clearly, these countries are globally important and deserve further attention.

Table 1. Overview of BE and BBE strategies and policies.

Country or regionPublication yearDocument titleSourceDefinition: Bio-based Economy (BBE) or Bioeconomy (BE)Focus: Technical and/or political Measureable targetsPriority areasReferences
OECD2009The Bioeconomy to 2030: Designing a Policy AgendaOrganisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)BETNoBiotechnology, agriculture, health and industry[1,10]
EU2012Innovating for Sustainable Growth: A Bioeconomy for EuropeEuropean Commission (EC)BBEP, T in a working document accompanying the strategyEconomic targets and scenariosFood, resources, innovation and skills[3,11]
USA2012National Bioeconomy BlueprintWhite House AdministrationBEPYes, qualitativeBiotechnology[2]
Canada2009The Canadian Blueprint: Beyond Moose and MountainsBioteCanadaBEPYes, qualitativeBiotechnology[12]
Germany2011National Research Strategy: Our Route Towards a Biobased EconomyFederal Ministry of Education and ResearchBBETYes, quantitativeAgriculture, health, food and energy[13,14]
Finland2011Distributed Bio-Based Economy: Driving Sustainable GrowthFinnish Innovation Fund (SITRA)BBEPYes, qualitativeEfficient resource use and biomass refining[15]
Sweden2012Swedish Research and Innovation Strategy for a Bio-based EconomySwedish Research Council for the Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning (FORMAS)BBETNoEfficient resource use and research gaps[16]
Australia2008Biotechnology and Australian AgricultureACIL TasmanBET, explanatoryNoAgriculture and biotechnology[17]

3. Background

It is important to put the transition to a bioeconomy in context. Kircher [18,19] has compared the amounts of fossil-derived carbon used today with the available amount through photosynthesis. There are 3.3 bn ton/year in the total amounts of oil produced (of which 92% is used for energy purposes and 8% for providing chemicals) and 7.2 bn ton/year of coal carbon (of which almost all is for energy purposes). This can be compared to 105 bn ton/year carbon through photosynthesis, of which 7 bn ton/year are produced by agriculture and used for production of food, feed and fiber (and some energy and chemicals) and it is therefore not available for replacing oil and other fossil resources. Pan et al. [20] have estimated the net carbon sequestration in forests to 1.1 ± 0.8 bn tons/year. Agriculture and forestry alone will therefore not be able to replace the fossil carbon used today.

There are, however, other forms of biomass, such as micro and macro algae. The use of algae is so far not exploited to its full potential, but there are suggestions that algae will constitute a significant feedstock for several chemical substances and also energy [21,22]. In addition to biomass, there are also other renewable energy sources that can contribute to a low-carbon energy system, but even with these included, margins are small and, in addition to replacing as much fossil carbon as possible with bio-based resources, it is vital to use these resources in an efficient way. Forecasts on whether these energy forms will be able to contribute significantly to a fossil-free economy or not is, however, not within the scope of this study, but it is clear that replacing fossil resources for energy, chemicals and materials with renewable and bio-based feedstocks is a major challenge.

4. Definitions

The terms BBE and BE have, during recent years, been increasingly used and discussed (see Error! Reference source not found.). In fact, the number of scientific articles including “bio-based economy”, “biobased economy”, “bioeconomy” or “bio-economy” in titles, abstracts or keywords has markedly increased. The number of citations of these words in Scopus shows that in 2005 the number of articles started to rise rapidly [23]. Even though the BBE and BE concepts relate to how bioresources are utilized in the economy, there are some notable differences in the way the terms are used. In some cases, the terms are used in a stringent form, but many of the texts studied and referred to in this article are policy documents where the two terms can be found interchangeably. The discussion here is thus more on an operational level of the concepts rather than a strict academic use (for more on the emergence of the concepts see [24,25]).

The OECD has used the concept of the BE and defined it as “transforming life science knowledge into new, sustainable, eco-efficient and competitive products” [1]. The OECD [10] has pointed towards the potentials of innovations in the transformation and more efficient use of bio-based resources. The USA has defined the concept in a similar way, although not emphasizing the sustainability aspect: “A bio-economy is one based on the use of research and innovation in the biological sciences to create economic activity and public benefit” [2]. The concept of the BE is focused on the methods of conversion of raw material into value added products.

Figure 1. Number of citations in Scopus with “bio-based economy”, “biobased economy”, “bioeconomy” or “bio-economy” in titles, abstract or keywords.

Figure 1. Number of citations in Scopus with “bio-based economy”, “biobased economy”, “bioeconomy” or “bio-economy” in titles, abstract or keywords.

Turning towards the concept of the BBE, a slightly different meaning is emerging. An early EU definition of the BBE, in 2005, was “the sustainable, eco-efficient, transformation of renewable biological resources into food, energy and other industrial products” [25] focusing on food and energy. In more recent communications from the EU, the definition has changed to “a bio-based economy integrates the full range of natural and renewable biological resources—land and sea resources, biodiversity and biological materials (plant, animal and microbial), through to the processing and the consumption of these bio-resources” [26]. This definition of the concept focuses on the raw material rather than the conversion processes. The concept of the BBE is also used in, for example, Germany [13], Finland [15,27] and Sweden [16] with the same meaning.

This study shows that the term BE is most often used by those who define the concept as biotechnology, life science and related technologies and applications, constituting a well-defined part of the existing economy, whereas the term BBE is often used in documents where the focus is on an economy which is based on the use of biomass resources rather than fossil-based products and systems. In those few cases where a more general perspective has been applied, the concept of the bioeconomy has been used. Interestingly, when the BBE term is used, there seems to be no quantitative limit when a country has attained a BBE—it is the process rather than the goal that is the essence of the documents of the countries using that definition. However, the BE term appears to link more closely with quantification of the bioeconomy, for example, as a percentage of the total economy.

In-depth discussions about the definitions and use of the BBE concept has been published by Schmid et al. [25] and Birch and Tyfield [24]. Schmid et al. [25] discuss the definitions and use of the BBE concept and distinguish two main stakeholders: industry and the general public. Furthermore, each promotes their view and interpretations of the concept. They conclude that it is the industrial perspective that dominates in Europe and point out that a strong focus on biotechnology in the definition of the BE is too limiting since it does not acknowledge the role of other industrial sectors managing biological resources that contribute substantially to the BE, such as the fishery, forestry and agriculture sectors. Birch and Tyfield [24] approach the topic of the BE with a frank questioning of the popular use of the prefix “bio” to several different words and concepts. They even suggest, and are supported by others, that a strong engagement in the concept embeds possibilities to shape the development of it. This current article hopes to contribute to this debate.

5. Analysis

As the documents analyzed are of different character and serve different purposes, it is difficult to compare them in a straight forward manner. As will become clear, such a comparison can be made only by describing the main characteristics of each document. However, through the evaluation matrix (see Table 1), an overview can be presented. The matrix outlines what kind of definition is predominantly used in different strategies and policies, the type of document in terms of a political and/or technical focus, the inclusion of measureable targets and priority areas in the documents, and finally, if action plans underpin the strategies and policies.

5.1. OECD

“The Bioeconomy to 2030: Designing a Policy Agenda” [1] is an extensive document produced by the OECD with both a broad and deep approach to the concept of the BE and its possible development. It describes the BE as “a world where biotechnology contributes to a significant share of economic output” which is a definition more of the BE than the BBE type even though the OECD specifies that biotechnology must constitute a “significant” share. For the OECD, a BE constitutes three major elements: biotechnological knowledge, renewable biomass and integration across applications. The economic growth in a BE should maintain environmental sustainability, which requires decoupling of economic growth from environmental degradation. The aim of the document is to describe the situation regarding the BE in 2009, where it can be in 2015 and what it might look like in 2030.

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