In 2014 the Nordic Council of Ministers initiated a new bioeconomy project: “Test centers for green energy solutions – Biorefineries and Busi- ness needs”. The purpose was to strengthen green growth in the area of the bioeconomy by analyzing and mapping the current status of the bio- economy in the Nordic countries and identify potentials and obstacles, needs and opportunities. Based on this a set of policy recommendations was formulated.
The project group participants were prominent scientists within the field of bioeconomy as well as government officials from all the Nordic countries. The project was headed by Professor Lene Lange, DTU, Denmark.
The resulting Nordic Bioeconomy NCM Report consists of three parts:
1. Executive summary chapters (Introduction, Background, Scoping, Conclusions, Trends, Actions, and Recommendations, supplemented by highlights of the reporting from each of the Nordic countries).
2. Full country reports on the bioeconomy, activities and available in- frastructures from each of the Nordic countries, including Greenland and the Faroe Islands.
3. A consultancy report (authored by Matis, Iceland) on business needs and opportunities within the bioeconomy, upgrading biological re- sources from agriculture, forestry, and fishery, as well as from indus- trial organic side streams and household waste.
Upgrade of biomass from waste fractions from agriculture, forestry and fisheries has huge potential for improved use of the biological resources. Globally, approximately 50% of the primary production is still not uti- lized, but wasted. Conversion of waste streams to products of higher value is the basis of the new bioeconomy. Conversion of biomass to bio- energy is well described and the process is already developed for up- scaling and commercialization. However, development of biobased products into products of higher value, such as healthy food and feed ingredients, speciality chemicals and functional materials is still in its early stages. Plant fibers are not the only component to be exploited; al- so proteins, lipids, lignins etc. have great upgrade potential. However, competitiveness of the biobased products is crucial to ensure fair conditions of commercialization of these products compared to existing prod- ucts on the market.
On the basis of the current status of bioeconomy technologies and value chains, a dual task lies ahead: rapid establishment of biorefineries based on existing technologies to create jobs, improved resource effi- ciency and more competitive business options; and development of new processes and high value products to gain leadership in biorefining technology, and jobs and market shares also in the years to come. Through a focus on strengthening Nordic cooperation we can address both tasks in a more effective and innovative way. This report provides a better basis for how this can be done sustainably, smart and fast.
The Nordic Bioeconomy began differently from in most countries in the world. Right from the very start, most of the Nordic countries have not focused only on biofuel. The most significant trend noted has been the build up of competence and technologies in both academia and busi- ness R&D to enable valorization of side streams from primary produc- tion and from the bio-industrial sector. In this way a platform is being built to upgrade biomass to higher value products such as food and feed ingredients, chemical building blocks and new functional materials, cosmetics etc.
The second trend reported by the project is that all the public re- search funding agencies in the Nordic countries have had major program activities dedicated to developing knowledge, know-how and technolo- gies of relevance the yellow biorefinery, to start with, and later also for the green and the blue biorefinery and for upgrade of waste.
A third trend is a focus on both the business potential of increased resource efficiency and on environmental and economic sustainability. Further, the potential for generating new jobs and stimulating rural de- velopment through for growing the bioeconomy has also been among the drivers.
A fourth trend is that the Nordic Bioeconomy over the last five to ten years has been a development priority of all the major Nordic players (Nordic Council of Ministers (NCM), Nordic Joint Committee for Agricul- tural and Food Research (NKJ), Nordic Forest Research (SNS), Nord- Forsk, Nordregio, Nordic Energy Research (NEF), Nordic Forestry and the Nordic Fisheries and Aquaculture cooperation (AG-Fisk) and The Environment and Economy group (MEG) under The Nordic Council of Ministers for the Environment).
This NCM Bioeconomy report also highlights several areas and as- pects of importance for the bioeconomy that so far have been insuffi- ciently addressed and followed up. The implications are that the inherent potential of the bioeconomy for generating of new jobs, development of rural and coastal areas have not yet been fully exploited.
The framework conditions for building business in the area of upgrade of side streams and waste have not been updated and mainstreamed to allow for efficient and successful development of the bioeconomy (e.g. several regulatory obstacles are slowing down this development, and in- centive structures towards creating markets for more sustainable and re- source efficient biobased products are not in place).
Furthermore, available and accessible infrastructures for upscaling of biorefinery technologies and processes are very limited. The short- comings especially within pilot scale test centers for upscaling of tech- nologies and processes pose significant obstacles to the further efficient development of the bioeconomy. This leads to suboptimization of the resources invested (almost all players have to invest in upscaling facili- ties). The mechanism of sharing best practice within and between the Nordic countries is also taking place only to a very limited extent.
Another observation from this project is that Nordic project initia- tives have only to a very limited extent led to continued Nordic collabo- ration beyond the designated Nordic programs. The university partners primarily collaborate with nationally based industries. And industries most often seek nearby university partners. Basically this means that we have not moved forward and harvested synergy to the level to which it could have been done. Such suboptimized use of opportunities for shar- ing best practice and building critical mass and momentum leaves room for improvement.
The list of recommendations specifically addresses how such short- comings of the development of the Nordic Bioeconomy can be overcome, preferably already within the short and medium term, for long term benefit. If collaboration between the Nordic countries is increased, we can all move ahead faster. The tangible outcome of faster implementa- tion of the bioeconomy is improved resource efficiency, more new jobs (also in rural areas), increased international industrial competitiveness, and timely development of improved biorefinery technologies, as a foundation for technological leadership and technology export. In this way the Nordic countries will also contribute towards a more sustaina- ble world in general.